The Episcopal Church in Minnesota is extremely blessed to have an abundance of saints past, present, or yet to come. Close to the top of list of those who have used their gifts to bring forth transformation in Minnesota is Sister Annette Relf.
In the book, “More than a Roof: The Development of Minnesota Poor Farms and Homes for the Aged,” Ethel McClure writes the following about Sister Annette Relf:
Sister Annette was a remarkable person. Born in Kentucky in 1840 and trained in Pennsylvania as a deaconess, she went to Minnesota in 1871. There she found a fertile field for her activities. Following an initial period as a parish teacher in Faribault, Sister Annette moved to Minneapolis, where she served from 1877 to 1882 as matron and nurse in charge of the Cottage Hospital (now St. Barnabas). In her spare time she started a Sunday school at St. Jude’s Mission. Resigning from her hospital position in 1882, she began the work that led to the establishment of the Sheltering Arms home for children. “With your approbation and blessing last August,” she wrote Bishop Henry B. Whipple on May 12, 1883, “I rented a house and made a beginning of a Church Orphanage. Though expecting aid and sympathy of the Church throughout the Diocese, I assumed responsibility of all the debts. . . . There is a pledge of $500 towards a new building. . . . It is God’s work and he will provide the means.”
Sister Annette then surrendered the institution, at that time located at Twelfth Street and Twenty-seventh Avenue South, to a board of trustees, and in May, 1885, turned her energies to a new venture – the Church Home for Babies at 2110 Fifth Avenue South. “The object of the home,” said a contemporary report, “is to prevent mothers from giving away their babies, by providing a home ‘within their income, allowing them to see their children often, thereby keeping up the parental love.’” The mothers paid $1.25 a week toward the support of the home. When informed of her new undertaking, Bishop Whipple is said to have remarked: “God will provide for Sister Annette.” During her years at the Sheltering Arms and the Church Home for Babies, wrote a biographer, “she received no salary, but on the contrary, used her own money in her work, while her clothing, be it spoken with reverence, could hardly have been more expensive than that of the Blessed Lord himself.”
In 1894 Sister Annette approached the Reverend John Jacob Faude, minister of Gethsemane Church in Minneapolis, with the idea of establishing a home for aged and infirm persons of the diocese. The project was not successful in Minneapolis (if, indeed, it was ever started there), and on the advice of Bishop Mahlon N. Gilbert of the diocese of Minnesota, Sister Annette moved to St. Paul. She took a house at 719 Martin Street, where she opened a home for children and aged women. In a year or two she moved to 527 John Street. In 1897 the diocese took over the home and incorporated it as an institution of the Protestant Episcopal Church, caring primarily for aged women. Sister Annette remained at the home as matron, nurse, and finally resident until her death in 1915.
As you see, two of ECMN’s crown jewels (Sheltering Arms and Episcopal Homes) stand on the saintly shoulders of Sister Annette Relf. This coming Monday, February 16th, on the 100th anniversary of her death, Episcopal Homes (1840 University Avenue West, St. Paul) will be celebrating their founder with a 30 minute program beginning at 1pm. Mayor Chris Coleman will officially dedicate this day as Sister Annette Relf Day in St. Paul, and the program will include other speakers, including The Venerable Rev. Irma Wyman. Visit the event’s page on the ECMN website for more information on what is sure to be an incredibly powerful and moving program.