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Pearce, Jo-Iris (Jo) (1919–2009)

by Janet Scarfe

Jo Pearce, n.d.

Jo Pearce, n.d.

The Reverend Jo-Iris ("Jo") Pearce died in Melbourne on 20 May 2009, aged 90.

Jo was among the first women ordained priest after the historic General Synod meetings in 1992 finally cleared the way for women’s ordination after years of debate and controversy.

Like so many women ordained with her, Jo had already had years of experience in professional ministry, and more than that, a life-long sense of call to serve the church.

Jo’s desire to serve went back to her youth in England. At London University (where she studied mathematics, physical education and divinity), her male friends were ordained; obviously that path was barred to her. Her endeavours to be a missionary were thwarted by the outbreak of war. She joined the British Army and served as both a touring phys ed instructor and statistician. After the war, she married, raised a family, continued to teach and participated keenly in the family’s local parish.

In 1963 Jo came to live in Melbourne, with husband Lionel and their two children. They were sponsored by All Souls Church, Sandringham under the "Bring Out a Briton" campaign. Jo became closely involved in parish life – choir member and mistress, cub leader, and lay reader (she believed she was the first woman with that license) – and taught at nearby Firbank School.

Jo’s desire to serve the church full-time resurfaced at All Souls. By then, ministry opportunities for women other than deaconess, missionary or religious sister were emerging – just. "Lay ministry" and "education for lay people" were new and exciting concepts. Jo enrolled at Ridley College, being among the first of many women welcomed by principal Leon Morris.

She completed a ThL (then the standard qualification for clergymen) and was licensed to work in a parish in 1974. As one of Melbourne "trained women workers", she detested the name but loved the ministry. She worked in churches in Collingwood, Hampton, Werribee and Moorabbin, with the license, role and remuneration of the curate, which she was in all but name.

In 1985, General Synod allowed women deacons, and Jo was made a deacon in May 1986. In practice, it made little practical difference to her ministry. She described the long wait for priesthood – almost seven years with no end in sight – as "traumatic".

When ordination as priest finally came in 1992, she was too old for a parish in her own right. Nonetheless, she felt her ministry, embedded in her since her youth, was completely fulfilled. She loved her priestly ministry at All Souls Sandringham and then St Agnes Black Rock in the years that followed.

Jo took her "firsts" in the church in her stride. She was not English long jump champion for nothing! She was tall and dignified, traditional in many ways but forthright. She did not mince words when she told the press in 1991, "you have these ridiculous situations where a woman is in charge of a parish and every Sunday they have to call in a man to say just one prayer!"

She was immensely proud to be among the "92 in 92", the first women priests in Australia. Her sole regret was that she was "born a bit too soon."

Jo is survived by her children Judith and Jonathon and their families, and by many memories of her long ministry in Melbourne parishes.

Original publication

  • Melbourne Anglican, 9 June 2009

Citation details

Janet Scarfe, 'Pearce, Jo-Iris (Jo) (1919–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/pearce-jo-iris-jo-13348/text23976, accessed 22 September 2019.

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