Former Vermont Bishop Mary Adelia McLeod, first female diocesan bishop, dies at 84

Posted Oct 13, 2022

Vermont Bishop Mary Adelia McLeod blesses the people at her consecration on Nov. 1, 1993. Her son the Rev. Harrison M. McLeod stands at her side. Photo source: Diocese of Vermont

[Diocese of Vermont] The Rt. Rev. Mary Adelia Rosamond McLeod, the first female diocesan bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church, died Oct. 12 at her home in Charleston, West Virginia. She was 84.

McLeod was ordained as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Vermont amidst a blinding snowstorm on All Saints Day in 1993 and served until 2001. She was the third woman to become a bishop in The Episcopal Church, but the first to lead a diocese, and her ordination was broadcast globally via satellite from Burlington.

Pressed at a post-ordination news conference to explain how her gender would affect her ministry, she said: “I really just bring myself, warts and all. I think people are ready to accept me for who I am … We all bring our particular gifts to what we do.”

Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown, the diocese’s eleventh bishop, hailed McLeod as a champion of women’s ministry and a dedicated advocate for the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people both in the church and the broader culture.

“She was always encouraging to me,” said MacVean-Brown, the first Black woman to lead the diocese. “I’m trying my best to continue her work of empowering and supporting lay ministry, promoting inclusion, strengthening our stewardship, improving transparency around our financial resources, and encouraging the ministry of women.”

In 2000, as the state of Vermont was debating same-sex marriage, McLeod released “Let the Church Be the First to Issue an Emancipation Proclamation,” an article she asked to be read in every church in the diocese. In it, she wrote, “homosexual persons choosing to live together in a life-long union are not committing a sin,” and argued that “God’s great gift of love and expressing that love cannot and should not be denied for those among us who happen to be homosexual.”

As a bishop, McLeod was known for spurring rapid growth in membership, developing the ministry of the laity, facilitating respectful conversations on difficult issues, restructuring the diocese’s governance, improving its financial position and conducting a successful capital campaign that helped to establish a diocesan loan fund.

Anne Brown, a lay leader in the diocese, remembers the day McLeod called her “out of the blue” and asked if she would take over the diocesan newspaper. “It was something I’d never done, and I ended up doing it for 14 years,” Brown said. “She set me loose with it, and never micromanaged it.”

McLeod had a gift for encouraging members of the diocese, Brown said, “sort of whipping up enthusiasm where there had not been a whole lot.”

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, McLeod was a graduate of the University of Alabama, where she studied history. After college she married and raised five children. Those years, her family said, were characterized by an intense commitment to community organizations, especially the Junior League and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Mountain Brook, Alabama.

In 1976, she and her husband, Henry (Mac) McLeod, III, each felt a call to the priesthood, and together they entered the Episcopal seminary at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Four years later, Mary Adelia graduated second in her class and became the first Alabama woman to be ordained to the Episcopal priesthood.

She served at St. Timothy’s Church in Athens, Alabama, and St. John’s Church, Charleston, West Virginia, before her election in Vermont. At both parishes, she served as co-rector with her husband. She also served as archdeacon in the Diocese of West Virginia.

Her published works included contributions to A Voice of Our Own: Leading American Women Celebrate the Right to Vote and Women’s Uncommon Prayers: Our Lives Revealed, Nurtured, Celebrated.

She donated her body to the West Virginia Human Gift Registry. At her request, a private family celebration is scheduled.