Mother Divine ... Cult Leader ... Dies at 91
"It came as a bolt from the blue. On Aug. 7, 1946, Father Divine, the charismatic leader of the International Peace Mission Movement, introduced his new wife as “the Spotless Virgin Bride” to a gathering of stunned followers at a Philadelphia banquet.
"The Rev. Major Jealous Divine, regarded as God incarnate by his disciples, had further news. Sweet Angel, as his 21-year-old former stenographer was known to the movement, had taken into herself the spirit of Father Divine’s first wife, Peninnah, or Sister Penny, who had died in 1943. The two women were one and the same, he announced. Moreover, his union with the woman henceforth known as Mother Divine would be chaste — a marriage in name only, he said — because “God is not married.”
“When Father married me, he symbolically married everyone else,” Mother Divine told Newsday in 2005. “It’s not a personal marriage. It’s Christ married to his church.”
"Mother Divine, who led the movement after her husband’s death in 1965, died on March 4 at Woodmont, the Peace Mission’s estate and headquarters in Gladwyne, Pa., outside Philadelphia, the organization announced. She was 91.
"Mother Divine was a mysterious figure. Little is known about her early life. She was born Edna Rose Ritchings on April 4, 1925, in Vancouver, where her father, Charles, ran the Strathcona Floral Company, a nursery and flower shop. Her mother was the former Mabel Farr.
"At 15, she became fascinated by Father Divine and his religion, which preached a gospel of self-help, abstinence, economic independence and social equality. By providing cheap meals and social services during the Depression, he attracted a large following in Harlem, where he maintained his headquarters, and through his many missions, known as heavens, elsewhere in the United States.
"The revelation came to her, she wrote in Ebony magazine in 1950, “that Father Divine is God Almighty personified in a beautiful, holy body.”
"According to Sara Harris, the author of “Father Divine: Holy Husband” (1953), Edna Rose left home for Montreal, where she moved in with a family of Father Divine’s disciples, took the name Sweet Angel and found work as a stenographer at a costume jewelry business. She then made her way to Philadelphia to meet Father Divine and was hired as his personal stenographer. The marriage quickly followed.
?Unknown to the faithful who had assembled on Aug. 7, the marriage had taken place on April 29 in Washington, at the house of the Rev. Albert L. Shadd, a recent convert. For months, the news remained secret. “We could not have released it,” Sister Mary, a member of Father Divine’s inner circle, told Ms. Harris. “If we had, there would have been no telling what might have happened. The marriage was such a world-shaking event, it might have made followers vibrate strongly enough to destroy themselves.”
"The much-loved Sister Penny was black, for one thing, and her death had never been announced. The new Mother Divine was white, and although the Peace Mission regarded the idea of race as sinful, nearly three-quarters of the membership was black, and the sudden appearance of a white replacement came as a shock to the Peace Mission and to the black news media."
William Grimes - New York Times - March 14, 2017.