Sunday, August 2, 2009

Episcopal Church names feisty aide of Indians a saint

She wore a habit and boots, drove fast on narrow roads and could intimidate powerful men just by the sound of her boots clunking on stairs.

She helped investigate at least one Everglades murder in the 1930s. She liked to sing and whistle, but her mission in life was helping Indians.

She worked first in Oklahoma, then Alaska and starting in 1933, in Southwest Florida, working with Seminoles and Miccosukee. Deaconess Harriet Bedell stayed until 1960, when Hurricane Donna and her age, then 85, ended her work.

And now, 40 years after her death, Bedell has been named a saint in the Episcopal Church.

"She really was a saintly person," said Marya Repko, an Everglades City resident and author of "Harriet Bedell in the Everglades."

"She thought about the other people she was with and what was best for them."

Unlike the Catholic Church, which requires proven miracles of its saints, the Episcopal church picks saints based on other criteria.

James Robert Dixon, who was known as the "Father of Dunbar High," helped shape young Fort Myers minds.

"I think it's her long service to people who were poor and especially among American Indians," said Ormonde Plater, a New Orleans author and deacon who has written about Bedell on his blog.

The Miccosukee name for Bedell was Inkoshopie, woman who prays, according to Plater.

Her sainthood is news in the Florida Episcopal community. The Rev. Michael Durning of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, had been pastor of two Collier County churches and knows the legend.

"In a Model T she would drive from Everglades City to New York unaccompanied," Durning said.

She sold Indian arts and crafts and came back, Durning said, "loaded with sewing supplies and sewing machines."

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