Celebrating the Life and Witness of Mary Jane Patterson

Introductory article by Sylvia Thorson-Smith
PCUSAnews article by Jerry L. Van Marter
Mary Jane Patterson
With both grief over her loss and immense gratitude for her life, we mark the death of one of the great women — one of the great SHEROS — of the Presbyterian Church, Mary Jane Patterson. I invite those of us who knew and loved Mary Jane to share anything of what she has meant to you and all of us.

I’ll begin with one of my favorite sayings that Mary Jane used often (she actually credited Karl Barth for this one, I believe): we need to face life with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

As director of the Washington Office of the PCUSA for years, Mary Jane understood the relationship between Christian faith and social justice. She connected the dots between all issues of injustice and worked tirelessly to empower the church’s witness to Gospel love.

Mary Jane was a mentor to many of us, and I am particularly grateful for her unwavering support for feminist and racial ethnic advocacy in the PCUSA. We have lost one of our most influential and inspiring foremothers, and we must honor her by a more resolute struggle for peace and justice.

“Mary Jane Patterson dies
Presbyerian elder led Washington Office for 13 years”
by Jerry L. Van Marter
Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE ― Mary Jane Patterson, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) elder who served as a social worker and missionary to Africa before enlivening the corridors of power in the nation’s capital as director of the Presbyterian Washington Office for 13 years, died April 8 in Washington.

A native of Marietta, OH, Patterson graduated from the Ohio State University, where she majored in philosophy and accounting before earning a master’s degree in social work. She worked in the business world for a few years before church work beckoned.

Her first assignment for the PC(USA), in 1966, was as a community developer and consultant on social work for the Presbyterian Church of East Africa in Kenya. Returning to the U.S. two years later, Patterson took on urban social work as staff for the National Council of Churches’ “Crisis in the Nation” program in Chicago and Los Angeles. In 1969, she accepted a post with Protestant Community Services of the Los Angeles Council of Churches as a community organizer and ombudsperson.

Patterson was appointed associate director of the PC(USA)’s Washington Office in 1971 and in 1976 was appointed director. For the next 13 years ― until her “retirement” in 1989 ― she was a fixture on Capitol Hill, pressing the church’s case on such issues as peace, human rights, development assistance, food policy, support for the United Nations and the entire range of foreign and domestic policy issues addressed by the PC(USA) General Assembly.

Throughout her life, Patterson was a staunch advocate of civil and human rights in the U.S. and around the world and earned the trust and respect of politicians of all stripes. She served on the Presidential Advisory Board for Ambassadorial Appointments under the Carter administration and was frequently called upon for advice by President Ronald Reagan despite their disagreements on many issues.

No one ignored Mary Jane Patterson.

She was named winner of the Peaceseeker Award by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in 1988 and was honored as a PC(USA) Woman of Faith in 1998.

Services are pending at Sargent Memorial Presbyterian Church in Washington, where Patterson served as an elder for many years.


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