Mary (Longley) Mercer


Mary E. Mercer, BA, BD
Surname as Student: Mercer
Surname at Birth: Longley
Education: United Church Training School
Graduation Year: 1930
Designated: 1932
Denomination: United Church of Canada
  • 1896 - Born

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Mary Mercer passed away peacefully at Christie Gardens, Toronto, on October 18, 1987 in her 92nd year. Dr. J.C. Torrance, with whom she had worked for many years on the Toronto Home Missions Council, in his memorial address helped everyone remember the rich life of service that Mary had lived. He has given permission to use his words here.

Mary Longley was born October 18, 1896 in Paradise, Nova Scotia. She was the eldest of 11 children born in the Baptist family of Tryphena K and Joseph S. Longley. She was a graduate of Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. For a time she taught school in Nova Scotia, but, later signed a contract with the School Board in Pincher Creek, Alberta. While there she met a young Methodist minister by the name of Mercer, who just happened to preach in the town church while he was on holidays, visiting friends. They were married in 1922. He was a Newfoundlander and had already served his Church in Newfoundland. Now as a young married couple they responded to a missionary call to go to an out of the way missionary post in Northern Newfoundland at Fogo. Tragically, a little more than a year later, the young minister while on call to visit a sick parishioner lost his way in a severe blizzard, and with some raisins clutched in his hand perished before he reached his home.

In 1928 Mary began her education for church work at the United Church Training School in Toronto, graduating in 1930 as a Deaconess Candidate.  She deferred appointment for a few years, then served one year under the Woman’s Missionary Society, starting in 1932, at Community House, New Aberdeen, Nova Scotia.  She taught for a year at the Indian Residential School in Morley, Alberta. However, during these depression years appointments for Deaconesses were scarce. She was unable to get a permanent position until she was appointed by the National Board of Home Missions to serve as Deaconess at St. Stephen’s United Church, Toronto, in 1936. There she had responsibility for the Sunday School of some 500 boys and girls, and gave guidance to the women’s work and did visitation. Later, she served for two years at St. Andrew’s United Church, Winnipeg, (1940-42) and then she returned to Toronto to the National Council in the fall of 1942.

I was the secretary then of the Toronto Home Missions Council and from that time on until her retirement in 1965 she was with the Council doing Deaconess work with several of our downtown institutions: St. Paul’s Italian, Chinese mission work, Oak United, Regent Park (the bringing together of several congregations: St. Giles, Parliament St., King Street, Berkley).

Fifty years is a long time. I first met Mrs. Mercer April, 1937. When I took over in my work for the Council, the National Board of Home Missions asked me to take care of the pulpit work at St. Stephens, promising me that they had a splendid Deaconess there to carry most of the other work. Well, that was when my knowledge of the abilities and many gifts possessed by Mary Mercer became increasingly clear.

In her early years with the Council Mary did an exceptionally good job with St. Paul’s Italian Church. There was an especially warm relationship in her work with the Italian women and children. This was true again at. St. Giles, at Oak United, and at Regent Park where there were many problems and she in her quiet way made a very effective contribution.

Her really big opportunity came in the field of church extension. She was an invaluable worker there, sharing in the development of something like 25 of the more than 45 new congregations that were formed between 1945 and 1965.

In a new area there are certain “must be done” jobs. A survey meant a door to door canvass seeking the support of “young families”. Not just a spot check or a call on one in every five, but a call on every home. After the calls it was necessary to sort out the information: listing those who expressed interest, having a list of all children, spotting those who had special interest, and might prove to be of special value as Sunday School leaders or have other leadership possibilities. Mrs. Mercer had a gift for finding “good” key people. Knowing who to “go after”, and getting them signed up for some piece of useful work within the organization was a real gift.

Transportation; these new areas were naturally on the perimeter of the city. Obviously there were no subways, no streetcars, very limited bus service. Mary didn’t drive a car. It meant long, long rides on the street cars to an area, where hopefully there might be a bus. All in all it was physically exhausting and time consuming. But I never heard her complain or gripe about those difficulties. It was just part of the job. When I visited those young congregations for some function or other in later years if Mary Mercer wasn’t able to be there herself, first questions were always about her.

Mary was well educated: able to express herself well, experienced in a variety of skills. I always felt there was a certain restlessness, a desire to upgrade herself in the academic field. She found ways of taking some blocks of time so that she could do further study. She registered at Emmanuel College and eventually over the years, by 1953, she was the proud possessor of her graduation standing from Emmanuel. Should she so wish she could now take ordination. Then followed considerable agonizing over whether to be ordained or to remain in the work she had success in and really loved. I remember some of the discussions, and when she decided not to be ordained but to remain with the work she was so well suited to, I was greatly relieved. Had this service been held, say 25 years ago, there would have been hundreds of people from those new area churches, who would have wished to voice their deep gratitude for the inimitable service given by Mary Mercer.

This biography is from The Newsletter, Historical Issue, 1988, Association of Professional Church Workers in the United and Anglican Church, edited with some additional biographical detail and dates by Caryn Douglas, April 2013.