Momma and I have been fans of Lent Madness since it began in 2010 as the brainchild of The Rev. Tim Schenck.
Momma's friend came up with this unique Lenten devotion while seeking a fun, engaging way for people to learn about the men and women comprising The Episcopal Church’s Calendar of Saints. Combining his love of sports with his passion for the lives of the saints, Lent Madness was born on his blog, "Clergy Family Confidential."
The format is straightforward: 32 saints are placed into a tournament-like single elimination bracket. Each pairing remains open for a set period of time and people vote for their favorite saint. Sixteen saints make it to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen; eight advance to the Round of the Elate Eight; four make it to the Faithful Four; two to the Championship; and the winner is awarded the Golden Halo.
(Last year's winner? U.S. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins won the coveted Golden Halo!)
The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Things get a bit more interesting in the subsequent rounds as they offer quotes and quirks, explore legends, and even move into the area of saintly kitsch.
Today's pairing? Joseph of Arimathea vs. Anna Cooper
Today’s match-up is why Lent Madness can sometimes resemble the theater of the absurd. The Scriptural figure Joseph of Armimathea, who asked Pilate for Jesus’ body in order to give him a proper burial, takes on Anna Cooper, African-American feminist, writer, and academic. The good news? Lent Madness returns after taking a sabbath on the First Sunday in Lent.
Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was one of the first feminists of the 20th century and a tireless advocate for "neglected people," in particular, African American women. Born in 1858 as the daughter of an enslaved African woman and a white man, likely her master, Cooper transcended the limitations of slavery and the post-Civil War’s Reconstruction.
She attended St. Augustine’s Normal & Technical Institute — now St. Augustine’s University — in Raleigh, N.C. She later studied at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio and graduated in 1884 with a bachelor’s degree and in 1887 with a master’s in mathematics. While at St. Augustine’s, Anna met and married her husband George Cooper, who was preparing for the priesthood. Although he died two years after they married, Cooper pressed forward with her education and career because of her desire to foster the full inclusion of black women in civic life.
Cooper’s passionate belief in the power of education to transform lives led her to serve as a teacher and principal at M Street High School, the only all-black school in Washington, D.C. When her superintendent told Cooper that she should focus on teaching trades to her students instead of science, math, and literature, Cooper unabashedly defied his orders and continued with her original plans. As a result of her firm resolve, M Street’s graduates attended some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities during a time when such opportunities were limited for women and people of color.
Cooper wrote A Voice from the South, in which she argued that black women had a unique voice about the experience of oppression and criticized educational, social, and civic advancements that only favored black men. At the heart of Cooper’s work was a firm belief in the potential of every human being.
Never one to slow down, Cooper adopted five orphaned children in 1915, and she earned her doctorate in history in 1925 at the age of 65 from the University of Paris. Cooper died in 1964 when she was 105 years old.
In 2009, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor. Pages 26-27 of all United States passports quote Cooper’s passionate beliefs about equality and freedom for all:
"The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party, or a class—it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity."
(Thus it is possible to meditate on Lent Madness while waiting in slow-moving immigration lines when you return to the United States from vacationing elsewhere.)
Collect for Anna Julia Haywood Cooper
Almighty God, you inspired your servant Anna Julia Haywood Cooper with the love of learning and the skill of teaching: Enlighten us more and more through the discipline of learning, and deepen our commitment to the education of all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Guess who got our vote?