Mother Divine, Who Took Over Her Husband’s Cult, Dies at 91

Source: The New York Times

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Mother Divine with her husband, Father Divine, in September 1953.CreditPeter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

It came as a bolt from the blue. On Aug. 7, 1946, Father Divine, the charismatic leader of the International Peace Mission Movement, introduced his new wife as “the Spotless Virgin Bride” to a gathering of stunned followers at a Philadelphia banquet.

The Rev. Major Jealous Divine, regarded as God incarnate by his disciples, had further news. Sweet Angel, as his 21-year-old former stenographer was known to the movement, had taken into herself the spirit of Father Divine’s first wife, Peninnah, or Sister Penny, who had died in 1943. The two women were one and the same, he announced. Moreover, his union with the woman henceforth known as Mother Divine would be chaste — a marriage in name only, he said — because “God is not married.”

“When Father married me, he symbolically married everyone else,” Mother Divine told Newsday in 2005. “It’s not a personal marriage. It’s Christ married to his church.”

Mother Divine, who led the movement after her husband’s death in 1965, died on March 4 at Woodmont, the Peace Mission’s estate and headquarters in Gladwyne, Pa., outside Philadelphia, the organization announced. She was 91.

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