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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, April 17, 2005

Rev. Edith Wolfe, seminary pioneer

Advertiser Staff

The Rev. Edith Wolfe died April 8, 2005, at home in Honolulu. She was 83.

Edith Wolfe

Wolfe, who was born April 30, 1921, in Newark, N.J., moved from New England to Kalihi in 1965 to serve as the executive secretary of the United Church of Christ's Woman's Board of Missions of the South Pacific Islands.

Her first project was to help prepare for the 150-year anniversary of the arrival of the first missionaries to Hawai'i from New England. It was through her efforts that the military was persuaded into towing a replica of the missionaries' boat Thaddeus to Kona for the event.

According to her niece, Jennifer Wolfe Guidry, Wolfe was fond of saying: "It doesn't seem a lot to ask."

Wolfe also created the first comprehensive Hawaiian-language hymnal. Another niece, Ruth Anne Wolfe, said her aunt put to music the "Hawai'i Aloha" song.

A former schoolteacher, Edith Wolfe was encouraged by her brother-in-law, a Presbyterian minister, to apply to seminary and she attended the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. According to Guidry, Wolfe would recall how one of her professors refused to call on her, the only female student at that time, as he felt she was "wasting" a seat that otherwise a man might occupy.

After ordination in 1946, she had a hard time finding a church until joining the Congregational Church (now United Church of Christ), then one of the few churches to accept female pastors. She served in Wales after World War II and later small churches in New England.

In the Islands, the Rev. Wolfe served dozens of churches as an interim minister on O'ahu, Kaua'i, Maui and the Big Island. She also traveled extensively to the Pacific islands and worked on missions in Micronesia, the Philippines, Yap and Japan.

In 1978, during the Vietnamese "boat people" crisis, she formed a program to teach English to refugee mothers and their children.

She served as interim pastor of the Church of Crossroads in the 1980s, then, in 1986, retired from the Woman's Board of Missions and became the permanent pastor to the Wananalua Congregational Church in Hana, Maui.

A memorial service will be held 4:30 p.m. April 30 at the Church of the Crossroads. Her ashes will be consecrated after the 10 a.m. service May 8 at Wananalua in Hana.

She is survived by her brothers, Paul and Robert, and sister, Dorothy Eastwick.