IN MEMORIAM: Letitia Croom '48

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The Rev. Letitia Croom (Class of 1948), Boise, Idaho and formerly of Nyssa, Oregon and Cove, Oregon, died July 29, 2014 at a Boise care center. She was 89, and died 40 years to the day after three retired bishops ordained the first 11 women who became Episcopal priests. Decades before women got the opportunity, Letitia Croom dreamed of becoming a priest for The Episcopal Church. She pursued the proper education, earning a bachelor's degree from Florida State College for Women–now Florida State University–and a master's degree through Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary, before receiving a theological certificate from General.

Croom waited 28 years for her chance. On Jan. 16, 1977, 16 days after The Episcopal Church officially endorsed the ordination of women, the Rev. Letitia Croom became a priest during a ceremony in the cafeteria at Vale High School in Oregon. The two churches she served then, St. Paul's in Nyssa and Holy Trinity in Vale, didn't have room for the several hundred people who attended the ordination.

She was the first female Episcopal priest in Idaho and Oregon, and among the first 100 Episcopalian women ordained nationwide. "She had that desire and that goal within her for a long time. She was patient and never got frustrated or said anything. She just waited for her time," said the Rt. Rev. Rustin Kimsey, who served as bishop of the Diocese of Eastern Oregon from 1980 to 2000. Kimsey met Croom 50 years ago when she was living in Boise. He said she had a gift for bringing wisdom and truth to people in a manner they could understand. “Her life was devoted to humanity and to the Church. She was fearless in bringing tough issues to the table for discussion and action.”

The Rev. Gretchen Downer, pastor at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Emmett, Idaho, said she studied with Croom in several religious classes. She said Croom was kind, knowledgeable and loving. "She was a great priest and it didn't matter whether she was male or female," Downer said. "She was just a wonderful person."

The move to allow women to become priests in The Episcopal Church was controversial in many places - but not in Idaho or Oregon, Kimsey said. "I don't remember anyone complaining about it," said Kimsey, who at the time was a parish priest at St. Paul's Church in The Dalles, Oregon. Three years later, he was ordained bishop of the Eastern Oregon diocese.

Born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925, Croom was known by friends and parishioners as Tish. Norman L. Foote, Bishop of Idaho, ordained Croom a deacon in 1971 - the highest church position she could hold until the priesthood opened up six years later.

Croom served as an assistant at the Church of the Holy Nativity in Meridian, Idaho from 1972 to 1974. She then served as vicar at Holy Trinity Church in Vale, Idaho from 1974 to 1985, and from 1974 to 1988 served as part of the innovative Seven Rivers Cluster, which included seven Episcopal parishes in Idaho and Oregon. The Rev. Jim Mosier, who served with Croom at the time, noted she was dubious about the idea of yoking churches together, 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 about how do we make the kingdom of God present to the community we live in.”

From 1974 to 1990, Croom served as editor of the Eastern Oregon diocese's newspaper, the Oregon Trail Churchman, a name that wasn’t universally popular. “We were having great discussions about 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, the diocese said.

Croom retired in 1988 and moved to Cove, Oregon. She survived cancer in the 1980s but suffered after-effects from the radiation therapy. In failing health, she moved to a care center in Boise in 2008.

A memorial service was held August 4, 2014 at Ascension Chapel in Cove, Oregon, east of La Grande, the headquarters for the Eastern Oregon diocese. She is survived by two nieces in Florida.