Frances Perkins Wins Lent Madness

With thousands of votes of support from Mount Holyoke students and alumnae, employees of the U.S. Department of Labor, residents of Maine, and other fans, MHC’s Frances Perkins 1902 has won the Episcopal Church’s fourth annual Lent Madness competition to take its coveted “Golden Halo.”

While Mount Holyoke has no religious affiliation, community members of all faiths have long considered Perkins to be among MHC’s most inspiring and beloved alumnae—and they responded in droves to the College’s social media campaign to express their admiration through five rounds of voting between March 1 and March 27.

With a final championship match tally of 4,007 votes compared to 3,067 for St. Luke the Evangelist, Perkins becomes the first American to win Lent Madness, a lighthearted competition in which 32 pious candidates are matched up in the manner of basketball’s March Madness. She defeated Father Damien of Molokai in the first round of the contest and was then dubbed its “Cinderella” when she unexpectedly beat out Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Saintly Sixteen round. She went on to defeat civil rights martyr Jonathan Daniels in the Elate Eight, seventh-century abbess Hilda of Whitby in the Faithful Four, and then Luke.

From her work in the wake of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, to becoming the first woman to hold as U.S. Cabinet position, Perkins has embodied MHC founder Mary Lyon’s charge to “Go forward, attempt great things, accomplish great things” for generations of students. As Secretary of Labor for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she was the architect of the New Deal, Social Security, and child labor, minimum wage, and worker safety laws.

“Frances Perkins was an extraordinary champion of social justice and an outstanding role model for women and girls,” said MHC President Lynn Pasquerella. “The prestige of Mount Holyoke College is built upon the lives of our alumnae, and we are so very proud to have had Frances Perkins as a member of our community.”

Perkins was also a devoted member of the Episcopal Church of Maine, and her faith is said to have inspired her compassion and her work. Heidi Shott, the canon for communications and social justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, nominated Perkins for the starting 32 in this year’s Lent Madness.

“I recommended Frances Perkins, who since 2009 has been commemorated in the Episcopal Church—not as a saint, per se, but as an Episcopalian worthy of having her own commemoration day,” explains Shott, who lives in the Perkins family hometown of Newcastle, Maine, and across the river from Damariscotta, where the Frances Perkins Center is based. “Certainly Frances Perkins’s life and commitment to the common good has  benefited millions and millions of people. She is a saint to get  behind!”

“We Christians sometimes dwell inside stained glass and stone walls, as if the world’s concerns were not ours,” said the Rev. Scott Gunn, one of the organizers of Lent Madness and executive director of Forward Movement. “Frances Perkins shows us the power of a life of faith and service. I am thrilled that so many Mount Holyoke students and alumnae shared the madness of Lent Madness, drawing fun, learning, and inspiration from people who have tried to take their faith into the world.”

Nearly 100,000 people took part in the competition this year, according to Gunn.

Lent Madness began in 2010 as the brainchild of the Rev. Tim Schenck, an Episcopal priest and rector of St. John’s Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, as a way to engage people to learn about the men and women of the church’s calendar of saints. Musing on Perkins’s victory, Schenck said, “One of the fun things about Lent Madness is people learning about lesser-known inspirational figures. In this case, Frances Perkins captured the hearts and minds of the voting public and swept to an unlikely victory. I assure you no one who filled out a bracket had her going all the way!”

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