The Rev. Dr. Prasanna Kumari Samuel died on March 16 of cardiac arrest at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai, India. She was a Ph.D. student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago scheduled to graduate in May 2006. Dr. Kumari Samuel was an internationally respected church leader who was serving as vice president of the National Council of Churches in India at the time of her death. She was a professor of New Testament and head of the Department of Women's Studies at Gurukul Theological Seminary in Chennai, India. A memorial service will be held at LSTC on April 9.
"I am deeply saddened, not only for the loss of a student, but for the loss of a friend and a woman whose courage, faith and leadership, I could only admire and respect the more I worked with her," said her academic advisor, the Rev. Dr. Vitor Westhelle, LSTC professor of systematic theology.
Kumari Samuel was the first Lutheran woman to be ordained in India and the first woman to serve as the executive secretary of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India. Her contributions to the church extended around the globe when she served as vice president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) from 1997-2003.
A member of the LWF Council from 1990 - 2003, Kumari Samuel chaired the Program Committee for Theology and Studies from 1990 - 1997 and the Standing Committee for World Service from 2000- 2003. From 1982 - 1992 Kumari Samuel served as regional coordinator for the LWF Committee on Women in Church and Society.
Kumari Samuel's published works include Abortion: The Agony and Aftermath; A Reader in Feminist Theology; Gender in Contemporary India; Feminist Theology: Perspectives and Praxis; and Women in Church and Society: Essays in Honor of Florence Robinson.
The title of her doctoral dissertation is Dalit Women's Experience: A Theological Imperative for Constructing Indian Feminist Theology. She was awarded a doctor of divinity degree, honoris causa, by the Academy of Ecumenical Indian Theology and Church Administration in Chennai, India.
"Prasanna was God's gift to the global church, an ecumenical leader who transcended denominational boundaries," said the Rev. Dr. Eardley Mendis, pastor of Purna Jiwan Abundant Life Ministries in Chicago and a long-time friend and colleague of Dr. Kumari Samuel. "She was a strong voice on behalf of the oppressed, particularly women and children. We will miss her visionary leadership and sound judgment both in the local and global church."
Prasanna Kumari Samuel is survived by her husband, Samuel Meschack, their two daughters, Prema and Priya, and one grandchild.