BOISE — The first woman ordained as an Episcopal priest in Oregon died last week.
The Rev. Letitia “Tish” Croom, who served in Vale and Nyssa, among other places around Oregon and Idaho, died July 29 in Boise at age 89.
She was among the first 100 women ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. Many remember Croom, who worked in both the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho and the Diocese of Eastern Oregon, with fondness and respect.
“Her life was devoted to humanity and to the church. She was fearless in bringing tough issues to the table for discussion and actions,” said the Rev. Rustin Kimsey, who was bishop of Eastern Oregon from 1980 to 2000.
In a 2008 interview, Kimsey said he could recall no real controversy when Eastern Oregon stepped forward in 1977 to become one of the first dioceses to ordain a woman.
“Eastern Oregon was incredibly open to all of that,” he said.
Kimsey, who in 1977 was a priest in the diocese, added: “By simply being a woman, she was one of our first windows into what that was going to be like, how the church was going to be changed by the experience of having ordained women.
“It’s radically changed our church. We’re different for a lot of reasons than we were 50 years ago, and I think the ordination of women was pivotal.”
Bishop of Idaho Norman L. Foote in 1971 ordained Croom a deacon — the highest ordained post a woman could then hold in the Episcopal Church — and she served as assistant at Church of the Holy Nativity in Meridian from 1972 to 1974.
She was ordained a priest Jan. 16, 1977, just 16 days after the Episcopal Church officially endorsed the ordination of women, by the fourth bishop of Eastern Oregon, the Rev. William O. Spofford.
In Eastern Oregon, she served as vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Vale from 1974 to 1985, and from 1974 to 1988, as part of the innovative Seven Rivers Cluster, which involved seven Episcopal parishes in Idaho and Eastern Oregon.
From 1974 to 1990, she edited the newspaper for the Diocese of Eastern Oregon. When she became editor, the paper was called the Oregon Trail Churchman, a name that wasn’t universally popular.
“We were having great discussions over how we should rename the thing,” Croom said in a 2008 interview.
Finally, she achieved gender neutrality by leaving “Churchman” off the masthead. Only one person complained.
Born in 1925 in Savannah, Georgia, she graduated from Florida State College for Women, then got her Master of Arts from Columbia University/Union Theological Seminary in 1949. General Theological Seminary granted her a certificate the same year.
The Rev. Jim Mosier, now rector of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Ontario, worked with Croom when he was a deacon. Both were involved with the Seven Rivers Cluster. As a missioner, Croom served as priest at churches in Nyssa and Vale.
“She held those two congregations together in really interesting and unique ways,” Mosier said.
“They were two different places, with two different kinds of history, and she was able to balance it. It was kind of amazing.”
Still, he added, Croom was dubious about the idea of yoking two churches together, with both competing for one priest.
“That’s where Tish was with much of her ministry: She was trying to get people to understand that this is about the kingdom of God. It’s not about having a priest present. It’s how do we make the kingdom of God present to the community we live in? Tish understood that in really dynamic ways,” Mosier said.
He said she was “very proud of being a deacon in the church.”
When she was ordained to the priesthood, “there was a sense of equity about that whole process for her.”
Croom retired in 1988, moving to Cove, where the diocese’s Ascension School Camp and Conference Center is located. Croom survived cancer in the 1980s but suffered after-effects from the radiation therapy. In failing health, she moved in 2008 to a care center in Boise.
“Her love for Ascension School Camp and Conference Center was boundless,” Kimsey said.