First Woman Ordained in Saint Augustine’s University’s Historic Chapel

Before a congregation of nearly 200 people, Mother Nita Charlene Johnson Byrd was ordained as priest at Saint Augustine’s University (SAU) Historic Chapel. The Right Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, the eleventh Bishop of North Carolina, served as the ordaining bishop for the ordination ceremony. The Right Reverend Anne Hodges-Copple, Bishop Suffragan of North Carolina, was the celebrant and the Reverend Dr. Sally Harbold gave the sermon.

Ordination is the sacramental rite in which God gives authority and the grace of the Holy Spirit to those being made bishops, priests, and deacons through prayer and the laying on of hands by bishops.

Following the Reverend Harbold’s beautifully delivered sermon, the Right Reverend Curry shared with the congregation that Mother Nita is the first priest to be ordained in the Historic Chapel in more than 80 years and the first woman chaplain to serve at the University. “This has been a long time coming!”

When asked how she felt after the ordination ceremony, Mother Nita Charlene Johnson Byrd, who prefers to be called Mother Nita, stated, “I have a vocation to serve God through serving God’s people. All who are part of Christ’s church are called to service. I pray that we will live in imitation of Christ’s loving example to the world.”

Throughout its history, SAU has maintained a close and enduring relationship with the Episcopal Church whose mission is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Several bishops and rectors have been Saint Augustine’s University board of trustee members, with more than one-third of all-black priests in the Episcopal Church being graduates of the university including three African American bishops.

Saint Augustine’s University was founded under the name of Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute through the joint efforts of the Freedmen’s Commission of the Protestant Episcopal Church and a group of clergy and laymen of the Diocese of North Carolina in 1867.

During the ceremony, Bishop Curry, priests and SAU administrators and students presented Mother Nita with gifts.

Bishop Curry of North Carolina presented Mother Nita with water and asked her to help him baptize. A stole was presented by the Reverend Dr. Cureton Johnson of First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C. and the Rev. Dr. William Turner, Duke Divinity School, vested Mother Nita according to the holy order of priests. The Right Reverend Stephanie Allen, dean of the Raleigh Convocation of the Diocese of N.C. presented her with the Canons to share in the councils of the dioceses.

SAU President Dianne Boardley Suber stated, “It is a pleasure and honor to be a part of this monumental occasion.” Suber presented Mother Nita with a key to the Historic Chapel to let the doors of the chapel be open to all people. Dr. Roland Bullard, SAU’s vice president for Student Development and Services, presented Mother Nita with a Book of Common Prayer and ask her to be a woman of prayer. Ernest Swan, a member of the Christian Fellowship Organization, and Ashley Nelson, president of the SAU Student Government Association, presented her with holy oil and asked her to be a healer and reconciler. Chapel members Clarence Branch and Doris Holloway presented Mother Nita with bread and wine asking her to break the bread and bless the cup.

The chapel came alive with the beausitful sound from the University Choir, under the direction of Dr. Eric Poole, assistant professor of Music.

Mother Nita received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University and her master of divinity degree from Duke University’s Divinity School. A native of Raleigh, NC, Mother Nita grew up attending the Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh.