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Rev. Dr. Sadie S. Mitchell, retired educator and Episcopal priest, dies at 99

Dr. Mitchell, who entered the seminary after a career in the Philadelphia school district, “was always working toward something,” said her daughter, Charlene M. Wiltshire.

Rev. Dr. Sadie S. Mitchell, 99, died Dec. 16 at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood.
Rev. Dr. Sadie S. Mitchell, 99, died Dec. 16 at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood.Read moreCourtesy of Charlene Wiltshire (Custom credit)

The Rev. Dr. Sadie S. Mitchell, 99, a Philadelphia elementary school principal who in her 60s entered the seminary and became an Episcopal priest, died Wednesday, Dec. 16, at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood.

She had suffered a series of falls and never fully recovered, according to family.

From her role as a pastor at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas — the West Philadelphia church she attended in her youth — to her decades-long participation in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and community organizations, Pastor Sadie, as parishioners called her, carried out her busy schedule with a sense of purpose.

“She was always working toward something,” said a daughter, Charlene M. Wiltshire, of Northeast Philadelphia. “I don’t think anybody in the family was ever surprised that my mother was going into some new endeavor. She was always about education.”

She had a doctorate in education and a divinity degree.

Born in 1921 to Joseph Alphonso Stridiron and Lucinda Clifton Stridiron, the second of five children, Pastor Sadie spent her early years in South Philadelphia before moving as a teenager to West Philadelphia. There, her family joined St. Thomas, and she and her siblings attended Overbrook High School.

She went to Temple University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, according to her family. She later received a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in education leadership in 1978 from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

In 1946 she married Charles T. Mitchell, Jr., who worked for the Philadelphia Recreation Department. They lived in South Philadelphia before moving to West Philadelphia in 1952, and had three children.

After beginning her education career as a teacher, Pastor Sadie served in numerous roles in the Philadelphia School District, including assistant to the superintendent and principal of the now-closed Ferguson Elementary School in North Philadelphia.

While maintaining her own active calendar — in addition to work, church, and sorority commitments, she played contract bridge, hosting events and attending tournaments in the Poconos and Catskills — she also engaged her children in social groups, sent them to overnight camps, and exposed them to the arts.

A lover of classical music, she enrolled her two daughters in piano lessons and was firm about their musical education.

Wiltshire recalled that her father — who favored jazz — would sometimes sit beside her at the piano and show her chords. When Pastor Sadie heard, “she would yell down, ‘Charles! She’s supposed to be practicing Beethoven!’” Wiltshire said.

Pastor Sadie, whose husband died in 1976, was “always self-sufficient,” Wiltshire said. She noted her mother learned to drive in the 1950s at a time when not many women did, carting her children around in an “old jalopy” that her brother repaired and gave to her.

After retiring from the School District, she entered the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, now part of United Lutheran Seminary. She received a divinity degree and was ordained to the Episcopal diaconate and then the priesthood, according to her family.

Pastor Sadie served at several churches before becoming associate priest at St. Thomas — the parish her family had attended during her youth.

She led Sunday school activities and visited parishioners at home and in hospitals. She was also involved in groups including the national Union of Black Episcopalians. Even after her formal retirement, she remained active in the church.

“Priests do not retire,” Pastor Sadie told the Episcopal News Service in 2012. “You just get up there when you can.”

She was also an avid traveler who once spent a year teaching English in Puerto Rico. She took educational tours to foreign countries, and cruises to the Mediterranean and Alaska.

Though waning health in later years prevented her from participating in Delta Sigma Theta activities, Pastor Sadie remained dedicated to the historically Black sorority — with dues paid through 2021, Wiltshire said.

“That was a big part of her life,” Wiltshire said. “Everything was a big part of her life, actually.”

In addition to Wiltshire, she is survived by daughter Sadye “Sarah” Archer and son Charles “Bud” Mitchell III; seven grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; a sister-in-law; and nieces, nephews, and cousins.

A memorial service will be held in 2021 pending the full reopening of St. Thomas. The family has asked that donations be made to the Jesse F. Anderson Sr. Scholarship Fund, the AECST, 6361 Lancaster Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19151. Checks may be made payable to: AECST, with “JFA Scholarship in memory of Pastor Sadie” written in the memo portion.