The Rev. Paulette Agnes Toppin Schiff, Class of 1987, who served at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, died September 17, of colon cancer at her home in Miller Place, New York at the age of 69. Born in Rockville Centre, New York, she graduated in 1964 as valedictorian from Douglas MacArthur High School, Wantagh, New York. In 1968, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania, before receiving her M.Div. degree from The General Theological Seminary.
Schiff began her career in the 1970s as a social worker for Lutheran Children and Family Services in Philadelphia. She lived and worked in Belfast, Maine, before returning to Philadelphia, so that she could become an assistant priest at St. Mark's on Locust Street in 1988.
During the next eight years, she reached out to members of Philadelphia's gay and lesbian community and those living with HIV/AIDS. Schiff was a co-founder of a group called Christ Aids All, which supports people with AIDS.
“She impressed countless parishioners and friends with her deep kindness, expansive spirituality, and sense of wonder at life's marvels - both the sacred and the ordinary,” her family wrote in a tribute. She felt called to the priesthood, she said, because “I love God and I love people.” Within the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, she led an Education for Ministry group, a four-year certificate program in theological education. She also supported the formation of the Women's Sacred Music Project, which began at St. Mark's as the Lady Chapel Singers, and served on the Ecumenical Committee, Diocesan AIDS Commission, and Diocesan Council.
Starting in 1996, Schiff held interim priest positions at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church in Southwark, and St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Society Hill. In 2000, she moved to Phoenix to become assistant priest at Good Shepherd of the Hills and Interim Priest-in-Charge at St. Mary's Episcopal Church. She retired in 2011 in Miller Place, on Long Island, after serving at two nearby Episcopal churches.
She participated for many years in Beijing Circles, a group of Episcopal and Anglican women focused on the advancement of women's causes.
Schiff was known for her soprano voice, and especially her liturgical singing in church. She also sang with the Mendelssohn Club-Philadelphia and the Sarum Singers of Philadelphia. She enjoyed travel, listening to music, and looking at art.
She is survived by her husband of 47 years, Walter Schiff; a daughter, Kathryn Magdalene Good-Schiff; a sister; a brother; and a niece.
A memorial service was held on October 8 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Patchogue, New York. A Choral Evensong and Benediction in her memory will be at 3 p.m. Sunday, December 4, at St. Mark's Church, 1625 Locust St., Philadelphia. The Burial will be held privately.