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Frances and Faith: Introduction

People interested in the New Deal and related issues are sometimes unaware of the contributions made by Frances Perkins.  In turn, people who recognize Frances Perkins as a national figure of rigorous education and widespread practical experience are sometimes unaware of how her faith was the foundation for her life and public service. 

Frances Perkins was a faithful Episcopalian throughout her adult life. At different periods, she participated in the activities of Episcopal parishes in several states and the District of Columbia. During her busy years as Labor Secretary, she spent a day each month in retreat at an Episcopal convent in Catonsville, Maryland. Although she rarely wrote or spoke publicly about her faith, one outstanding exception is her unpublished 1948 St. Bede Lectures entitled “A Christian Order of Society.”

Her Church recognizes Frances Perkins as a notable saint. In 2009, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention established May 13 as a feast day commemorating her as a Public Servant and Prophetic Witness. This means that every May 13, she can be celebrated in the public prayer of the Church, with her example of holiness raised up as worthy of emulation. A prayer associated with her feast declares that in faithfulness to her baptism, Frances Perkins “sought to build a society in which all may live in health and decency.”

Based on ancient practice, the Episcopal Church process of thus adding a name to the calendar does not require evidence that the saint has performed a miracle. However, Social Security and other New Deal programs have touched so many lives in such gracious ways that I for one see Frances Perkins as a worker of wonders and a prophet calling society to justice and mercy.

Charles Hoffacker
Board Member, Frances Perkins Center
Priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington


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