Hand of the Cause of God William Sears (1911-1992). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.
When setting out to write this article, I felt overwhelmed: William Sears accomplished so much in his 80 years. How to distill decades of service, achievements, and adventures into a short article? Here I’ve only captured the outlines of a man who seized every opportunity to serve—who once said, “I need only to remember one thing: nothing must come between me and my responsibilities to God and to my fellow man. Glory is not his who loves his country, his family, or himself alone. Glory is his who loves his kind. This, I believe, has helped me to look upon each dawn as a new adventure.”
A spiritual light burned in Sears practically from his birth on March 28, 1911. Starting in 1912, at 18 months old, he had dreams about a Holy Man—dreams which, he later discovered, began when that Holy Man, Abdu’l-Baha, visited Minnesota, where Sears grew up. Raised in the Catholic Church, Sears was full of questions about religion, and was supported in his investigations by his grandfather. His father, however, was bewildered as the boy voraciously studied the Bible and proclaimed, “Someday I’m going to go all over the world and tell people about God.” Continue reading
Ellen Tuller Beecher known affectionately as "Mother Beecher" (1840-1932)
In 1844 Siyyid Ali Muhammad, known to the world as the Bab, spent a quiet evening in His home, with Mulla Husayn. That evening, outwardly unnoticed, signified the birth of a new dispensation, era, and cycle in humanity’s history. Four years earlier, in the United States, a woman was born who was destined to become one of the spiritual progeny of the energy released into the world from that momentous conversation.
When, at the end of the 19th century, Ellen Tuller Beecher declared her belief in Baha’u’llah as the Manifestation of God for this Day, she was nearly 60 years old. At the time she was one of only several hundred individuals in the United States who were registered members of the Baha’i community. She immediately entered into correspondence with Abdu’l-Baha. Some of the letters from Him to Mother Beecher, as she came to be known, contain many well-known passages from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha regarding the importance of unity: Continue reading
Emogene Hoagg (September 27, 1869 - December 15, 1945). (Photo: courtesy of the Baha'is of the United States, https://www.bahai.us/)
Henrietta Emogene Martin was born in 1869 in California. When her father died early and her mother remarried, Emogene was sent to live with her uncle and aunt. Despite her family’s indifference to matters of religion, Emogene engaged actively with her local church from a young age, and she would later teach her mother, sister and brother-in-law about the Baha’i Faith.
In 1889 she married John Ketchie Hoagg. Nine years after her marriage Emogene Hoagg became the first Baha’i of California, learning of the Faith through Phoebe Hearst, Lua and Edward Getsinger. Although there is no record of his formal enrolment in the Baha’i community, it appears John was financially and morally supportive of his independent wife and her extensive travel for the sake of the Faith. Abdu’l-Baha would refer to him as His son-in-law – the husband of His ‘daughter’ Emogene. Continue reading
Curtis Kelsey (1894 - 1970). (Photo: courtesy of Carol Rutstein)
Curtis Kelsey was an American Baha’i who served in Haifa during the final weeks of Abdu’l-Baha’s lifetime and who installed the lighting equipment that first illumined the Shrines of Baha’u’llah and the Bab.
Curtis was born in 1894 in Salt Lake City. He was a simple, happy-go-lucky, pure-hearted and easy-to-laugh fellow who only had a grade 8 education. Like many others, Curtis became a Baha’i because of a profoundly spiritual experience. His mother, Valeria, was a Baha’i and she tried to share the teachings with her family but they weren’t interested. Confined to his bed by typhoid fever and its accompanying severe headache, Curtis was cured when he heard orchestral music from an unseen source. Curtis called for his mother and asked her what he had just experienced. She turned to the few Writings in her possession. Curtis couldn’t rest until his experience was explained – he even left his work in order to “camp out on the doorstep” of every Baha’i and study the Writings. While an answer was not immediately found, his examination led him to the Faith. Abdu’l-Baha later explained that he had heard the music of the celestial kingdom and that it had awakened him spiritually. Continue reading
Laura Dreyfus-Barney (30 November, 1879 - 18 August, 1974) and Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney (12 April, 1863 - 20 December, 1928). These portraits of Laura and Hippolyte were done by Laura's mother, Alice, and the images are courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
In the year 1900, Laura Clifford Barney and Hippolyte Dreyfus met on the threshold of the Paris home of May Ellis Bolles. Laura was on her way to the visit the Canadian Baha’i in order to find out more about the Faith – which she accepted immediately, an unquenchable fire having been sparked in her heart. Hippolyte was departing May’s company. In the months that followed, Hippolyte became the first French Baha’i and in the years that followed he and Laura would both render priceless and invaluable services to the Cause. In honour of Laura’s passing which occurred 42 years ago on August 18th, I’d like to share some facts I’ve learned about them.
Laura was born on November 30th, 1879 in Cincinnati, Ohio to a wealthy family of artists and industrialists. She and her sister Natalie lived in luxury and privilege but owing to their parents’ strained marriage, they spent their childhood in both Paris and the United States. She studied the dramatic arts and sculpture, loved the theater and wrote 25 short stories and at least two plays. Laura was keenly intelligent, serious, inquisitive and insightful – qualities for which we are all grateful.
Between 1904 and 1906, Laura travelled to Akka multiple times. She was unmarried and in her twenties and the Master was still a prisoner of the Turkish government. Dr. Youness Afroukteh (whose wonderful recollections Memories of Nine Years in Akka is a delight to read) recorded these words: Continue reading
William Henry (Harry) Randall (19 April, 1863 - 11 Feb,1929)
Immediately after my plane touched down in Boston, my host whisked me away in her car with a promise that I would love our destination.
We did not head towards the recognised highlights of the city such as the historic Boston Common or Harvard University or the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
We drove instead to the historic suburb of Medford and arrived at a cemetery where, amidst the golden autumn leaves, was the simple grey slate headstone of William Henry (Harry) Randall (1863-1929).
To the outer world Harry Randall was a multi-millionaire Boston businessman who later lost his fortune.
To the Baha’i community Harry Randall is a true hero of the Faith, one loved by Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. Continue reading