Deaconess Mary J. Young was a celebrated youth minister who made a significant mark on the United Church.
In the fall of 1910 Mary entered the Methodist National Training School in Toronto.(See photo of school) following a dream shared by many young middle class women to dedicate themselves to church work.
The Methodist Order of Deaconesses was begun in 1894, influenced by the burgeoning American Methodist Order started a decade earlier. The revival of the Deaconess Movement in Europe in the early 1800s was made possible because of changing theological and social attitudes about women, accompanied by the emerging economic middle class. There were now women, not tied to subsistence farming or labour, available and eager for work in the wider world. At least until they married. (See photo of Jean Scott, an American Methodist Deaconess who was the Superintendent of the Canadian School.)
In the Canadian Methodist model the women were prepared primarily for social ministries, outreaching to the masses of urban poor in work we would identify today as public health nursing and social work. (See first Methodist Canadian Methodist Deaconesses). The expectation that the women would also be Christian Educators and evangelists was always implicit however, and within a decade women were being appointed to congregational work in that field.
At the inception of the Order it was envisioned that the women would live in community and Deaconess Houses were established in Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal and Winnipeg. (See Winnipeg Deaconess Home) Deaconesses were volunteers, agreeing to surrender over all of their time, working essentially 24 hours, 6 days a week, in return for room and board and a promise that they would be looked after while they remained in the Order and after retirement. However, the spread of the work into cities and towns where the establishment of a Deaconess House was not practical or affordable and the eventual demands of the women for better working conditions saw a shift to independent living, and the introduction of a salary in 1921. Better working conditions should be viewed as relative. The women were woefully underpaid, pensions inadequate, to say the least, and the working conditions often exploitative.
St. James United Church in Montreal employed 1 full time and one half time Deaconess in 1927, just 3 years before Mary began her work there as the Christian Education and Youth Worker. The congregation paid $9,150.00 for its two ministers, $3,897.00 for organist and soloists, $1,555.00 for a sexton, $720.00.32 for a part time secretary, and, $1,309.00 for one and a half Deaconesses. With the Ordained Minister earning $4,575 and the full time Deaconess $875, she made less than 1/5 of his wage!
These working conditions were argued to be fair on the basis that the vocation of a Deaconess was temporary, only until she married, when she was “disjoined” from the Order. In reality, probably 60% of the women did leave the Order to marry. The other 40 percent of the women, like Mary, who never married and remained in the Order for their whole career seemed to be invisible to those making the rules.
Yet, despite the conditions Mary loved her work. Serving Jesus and making a difference in the lives of Christians was a strong motivation for self-sacrifice, and, especially in the early part of the century, the options for women were limited.
Upon her graduation in 1912, (See 1912 full student body) The Methodist Deaconess Order appointed Mary to Bridge Street United Church in Belleville, Ontario, near her home community. It was customary for the women to serve a year or two as a probationary Deaconess prior to the ceremony of admission, so Mary was licensed as a Deaconess in 1914, likely by Bay of Quinte Conference. In 1926, when the Methodist and Presbyterian Deaconess Orders were officially merged into the new United Church Order, Mary was one of the 101 women on the roster.
After Belleville Mary served at Central Methodist Church, in Calgary, probably also in the area of Christian Education, until she left for a period of study in the United States, where she earned a degree in English and Drama at Boston University. Upon her return to Canada, she took an appointment in Winnipeg as the Deaconess at St. Stephen’s Broadway United Church in Winnipeg, a position she held from 1928 to 1931.
An article in 1928 in the United Church’s magazine, The New Outlook, notes her arrival in the city to take up the position with children and youth in the congregation, along-side of the ordained minister. Regrettably, the archival records of the Congregation do not include any mention of Mary or her work. She was the first Deaconess employed by the new congregation, which was officially formed in 1927 with the merger of Broadway Methodist and St. Stephen’s Presbyterian churches. The congregation took up residence in the Methodist building, directly beside the Manitoba Legislature with its extensive gardens. The congregation was largely made up of middle class families, many of them of a professional level, reflecting the housing in the neighbourhood. The first year of her appointment must have been exciting with the challenges in the large congregation trying to find its way through what would turn out to be only the first of its ecumenical marriages. Despite the economic crash of 1929 and the devastating effect that it rendered on many church’s capacity to pay for church staff, not only was Mary continued until 1931, in 1933 Barbara Henderson was hired as the Deaconess, a position she held until 1936. All of Barbara’s other ministry positions were in community outreach and social service. Perhaps St. Stephen’s Broadway shifted the focus of the Deaconess work from Christian Education to mission work with the appointment of Barbara. Interesting history just waiting to be discovered!
St. Stephen’s Broadway did not employee another Deaconess until Oriole (Vane) Veldhuis served from 1983 through to 1985, in a team ministry with responsibilities for Visitation, Christian Education and Outreach. Oriole, designated a Deaconess in 1961, was by then a Diaconal Minister. The Order of Deaconesses went through substantive transition over a 20 year period beginning in 1960, resulting in the modern expression of Diaconal Ministry in 1982, open to women and men.
At the time of Mary’s death at the age of 86 in 1975, a full page obituary was printed in the United Church’s Christian Education magazine. The author, Norman Vale, himself a church employee, was a dear friend to Mary. This is that obituary:
Mary Jane Young, a retired Canadian Christian Education leader in The United Church of Canada, died on November 1st  in Ottawa at 86. Many in the church now past their prime will remember her with fondness and gratitude, as I do.
I came under Mary Young’s influence in the early thirties at St. James United Church, Montreal, when she was the Deaconess and Director of C.E. program. Fortunately for Mary, as well as those who came under her care, she was teamed with Lloyd C. Douglas, then the minister at St. James, whose appeal to youth was extraordinary.
Not only did the YPU [Young Peoples Union] flourish under the direction of Mary Young but all mid-week groups in the church, from Explorers to all of the Women’s Groups. Several young men decided to enter the full time ministry and many men and women still active in the church today can trace their decision to either Mary Young or Lloyd Douglas, or both.
Mary reflected on that time with these words,
It is a source of great satisfaction to me that so many of my young people at St. James have continued to assist in the church and support it, even when they moved to new communities. As I look back on my four years I think they were my most productive and creative years. With the inspiration Dr. Douglas gave us it was possible to give all one had, believing that “with God all things are possible!” I shall always be grateful for my work with him and it left a deposit in my life that has paid dividends through the intervening years.
Mary Jane Young was a tall, soft-spoken woman whose dedication to the Master she served was matched by her desire for an education. She was absorbed by literature and often read to her groups from the great books and plays. She had a talent for drama also and many plays and concerts put on at St. James in those days attracted large audiences.
Mary received her early education in the Perretton-Westmeath area of the Bay of Quinte [eastern Ontario] Conference. Following completion of her elementary schooling she attended high school at Alma College, St. Thomas, Ontario. From Alma College she obtained her degree in English Literature (M.E.L.) and also the Alma College Associate in Elocution. In 1912 she graduated from the National Methodist (Deaconess) Training School in Toronto, now, after several changes, The Centre for Christian Studies.
Boston University awarded Mary her Bachelor of Religious Education and her M.A. She taught Religious Education and Social Work at Boston University and returned to Canada in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II to work in the Department of Psychiatry at Westminster Veteran’s Hospital in London, Ontario. Another year’s work would have earned her a doctorate in philosophy.
Mary traveled extensively and had a wealth of knowledge about the Holy Land, France, Britain and the USA as well as Canada. In 1934 she was invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace and met King George V and Queen Mary as well as other members of the Royal Family.
[Mary spent the last years of her working career in the employment of the Government in Ottawa, working with children. She describes her work in this way:]
My work is arduous, both physically and mentally, but it is satisfying and interesting in many ways. We work with Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Speech Therapists, Specialists in Special Education, Physiotherapists, Doctors, Nurses, etc. The children, with their great need to affection and understanding, find their way into ones heart.
I have always been interested in people, their motives, reactions, ambitions, objectives and spiritual values. What guides them in finding their way through life in our complex civilization? It has been an interesting search.
I have been exceptionally well the last few years. I will be 72 in May and I can still do more work than most of my staff whom are half my age.
Mary cherished her friendships with Dr. Ralph Connor, Winnipeg author of so many books of the day, and Dr. Lloyd C. Douglas,her Montreal team mate, also a famous author who wrote, among other books, The Robe and The Big Fisherman.
I cherish the memory of her friendship and her teaching. Since her retirement she had lived in Ottawa and was active, in church and cultural activities until about three years ago [when a series of health problems beset her]. She was keenly interested in politics and very critical of some of the actions of recent governments.
Farewell to a grand person and an effective leader!
This biography was prepared by Caryn Douglas. Resources used include the obituary by Norman K. Vale, from Combo, a resource for Adult Groups, Division of Mission in Canada, Winter 1976 with inserts of Mary’s own words from a letter to Norman written in 1961 or 62. Norman’s daughter, Joan Vale Gugeler is a retired diaconal minister. April 2013.
 Mary Anne MacFarlane, A Tale of Handmaidens: Deaconesses in the United Church of Canada 1925 to 1964, MA Thesis, University of Toronto, 1987
 Assuming that each of the Ordained Ministers received the same salary, although it is more likely that the Senior Minister would have been more highly paid than his junior, making the salary differential even greater.
 Early records are very incomplete so it is impossible to be precise about this number.
 Ralph Connor was the pen name of United Church minister, Rev. Dr. Charles William Gordon. He was a well respected Manitoba church leader, but his books were what made him famous. The Sky Pilot, gained him international attention in 1899 and sold more than 1,000,000 copies. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Connor
 Lloyd C. Douglas http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lloyd_C._Douglas