The Population Institute mourns the loss of the Rev. Dr. Rena Joyce Weller Karefa-Smart, who was the first black woman to graduate from Yale Divinity School and a leader in the international ecumenical movement. She died on Jan. 9 at her daughter’s home in Rancho Mirage, California. She was 97.
Karefa-Smart was also the first black woman to earn a doctor of theology degree from Harvard Divinity School, in 1976. She was the first female professor of color to receive tenure at Howard University School of Divinity, in 1979. She was ordained as an Episcopal priest and as a minister in the AME Zion Church. She attended the first Assembly of the World Council of Churches and was an ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., and an associate of the Center for Theology and Public Policy there.
Dr. Karefa-Smart’s husband, Dr. John Albert Musselman Karefa-Smart, was a medical doctor and served as Sierra Leone’s first foreign minister. The couple, who were active with the Population Institute, lived for many years in Africa and Europe. While living in Sierra Leone, Karefa-Smart was a leading supporter of women’s empowerment and family planning. Her husband, who died in 2010, was actively involved with a number of UN agencies, including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The New York Times has posted her obituary.