September 6, 2009 - Catharina Louisa Marthens

Catharina Louisa Marthens (1828-99) bears the distinction of being the first woman to be consecrated as a deaconess in the United States.  A member of W. A. Passavant's congregation in Pittsburgh, Pa., and consecrated by him on May 28, 1850, Sister Marthens became a tireless worker in the formation and growth of several areas of diaconal service initiated by Passavant. 

 While working as the first nurse in the Pittsburgh Infirmary, Sister Marthens helped to care for orphans who were left with no homes or guardians when their parents died in the hospital.  In 1852, Passavant organized an orphans' home as a separate institution (the Orphans' Farm School, Zelienople, Pa.) and appointed Marthens to take charge of the children.  Seven years later, the deaconess took four orphans from Zelienople with her to start another much-needed orphanage (called 'The Orphan House') in the village of Germantown, Pa.  These two orphanages, though managed by different boards, cooperated with caring for the children.  For example, when boys in Germantown reached a certain age, they were sent to the Orphans' Farm School to learn and work the farm.

Shortly after establishing the Germantown orphanage, Sister Marthens moved to Rochester, Pa., where she became the matron for a "Girls' Orphan Home."   Later in her career, she served faithfully as the matron and "guiding spirit" of another Passavant Hospital, located in Jacksonville, Illinois. 

In his book, The Life and Letters of W.A. Passavant, G.H. Gerberding provides a lovely picture of this woman and the story of how she became a deaconess:

            "She had been catechized and confirmed by Mr. Passavant.  From his lips she had heard the story of the blessed work of the Kaiserswerth deaconesses.  She was present when the four sisters from Kaiserswerth were consecrated by Pastor Fliedner.  When the hospital opened in Allegheny and no means were at hand she heard how here pastor and student Waters had washed and nursed the first patients.  Her heart, warm in its first love to the Saviour, moved her to offer her services, and she became the first regular nurse.  She helped to nurse the first cholera patients.  She was present when the house was mobbed and stoned as a 'pest house.'  She stood by her post, moved with the patients to Lacyville and became the first nurse of the Pittsburgh Infirmary..."

What a wonderful example of dedication to her Lord, and to a ministry of mercy to those who are the "lowly" of society!