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Mary Loizette Haskell Rentfro

Photo courtesy of Brazilian White Center - UNASP.

Rentfro, Mary Loizette Haskell (1874–1972)

By The Brazilian White Center – UNASP

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The Brazilian White Center – UNASP is a team of teachers and students at the Brazilian Ellen G. White Research Center – UNASP at the Brazilian Adventist University, Campus Engenheiro, Coelho, SP. The team was supervised by Drs. Adolfo Semo Suárez, Renato Stencel, and Carlos Flávio Teixeira. Bruno Sales Gomes Ferreira provided technical support. The following names are of team members: Adriane Ferrari Silva, Álan Gracioto Alexandre, Allen Jair Urcia Santa Cruz, Camila Chede Amaral Lucena, Camilla Rodrigues Seixas, Daniel Fernandes Teodoro, Danillo Alfredo Rios Junior, Danilo Fauster de Souza, Débora Arana Mayer, Elvis Eli Martins Filho, Felipe Cardoso do Nascimento, Fernanda Nascimento Oliveira, Gabriel Pilon Galvani, Giovana de Castro Vaz, Guilherme Cardoso Ricardo Martins, Gustavo Costa Vieira Novaes, Ingrid Sthéfane Santos Andrade, Isabela Pimenta Gravina, Ivo Ribeiro de Carvalho, Jhoseyr Davison Voos dos Santos, João Lucas Moraes Pereira, Kalline Meira Rocha Santos, Larissa Menegazzo Nunes, Letícia Miola Figueiredo, Luan Alves Cota Mól, Lucas Almeida dos Santos, Lucas Arteaga Aquino, Lucas Dias de Melo, Matheus Brabo Peres, Mayla Magaieski Graepp, Milena Guimarães Silva, Natália Padilha Corrêa, Rafaela Lima Gouvêa, Rogel Maio Nogueira Tavares Filho, Ryan Matheus do Ouro Medeiros, Samara Souza Santos, Sergio Henrique Micael Santos, Suelen Alves de Almeida, Talita Paim Veloso de Castro, Thais Cristina Benedetti, Thaís Caroline de Almeida Lima, Vanessa Stehling Belgd, Victor Alves Pereira, Vinicios Fernandes Alencar, Vinícius Pereira Nascimento, Vitória Regina Boita da Silva, William Edward Timm, Julio Cesar Ribeiro, Ellen Deó Bortolotte, Maria Júlia dos Santos Galvani, Giovana Souto Pereira, Victor Hugo Vaz Storch, and Dinely Luana Pereira.

 

 

Mary Loizette Haskell Rentfro was a canvasser, missionary, and nurse in the United States, Portugal, and Brazil.

Mary Loizette Haskell was born on August 11, 1874, in the city of Tama County in the state of Iowa, United States. The daughter of Lafayette Haskell and Margaret Stevens Haskell, she had three siblings: Marshall, Susan, and Robert.1 Mary was raised in a farming family and, during childhood, she moved several times with her parents in search of better farming lands.2

Around 1878, the Haskells were living on a farm near Adel, Iowa, when they were introduced to the Seventh-day Adventist Church by a lady surnamed Payne, who lived on a nearby farm. However, the most interested ones were the children, so with Margaret’s permission, their friend began taking them to Sabbath School. This influenced them deeply and, in the future, resulted in many blessings. At the time, Mary was only four years old and the SDA Church, in its organized form, had only existed for 15 years.3

Afterwards, the Haskells moved to Story County, Iowa, where the children no longer had the opportunity to attend Sabbath School; However, their father eventually read the Bible to them. Later, they moved to Nevada where Lafayette bought the book Bible Readings for the Home Circle from a canvasser, and reading became a habit in the family’s afternoons. When the Sabbath subject was discussed, the parents did not make the decision to keep it; Despite this, the children decided to keep it on their own. At the time, Mary was around 14 years of age.4

In 1888, Lafayette went to a nearby city in Nevada to buy some supplies. At the request of the children, he searched for information about the presence of Seventh-day Adventists in the region and came home with a positive answer. As a result, the Haskells began to attend church and were all baptized – the children by immersion and the parents by profession of faith since they had already been baptized in the Baptist church. However, the parents were never very enthusiastic about this new religion, so sometime later, they stopped attending church. Lafayette felt he was a hypocrite since he was not able to quit tobacco, and Margaret, worried about the farm work, gradually opposed Sabbath-keeping. She thought her children were getting way too involved in church activities, so they decided the best way to keep them away from Adventists was to move again, this time to Tama County, Iowa.5

God had plans for the Haskell children, though. In Iowa, they once again made contact with Adventists when C. A. Washburn and H. M. J. Richards, from the Iowa Conference, held tent evangelistic conferences in the region and started a Sabbath School in the rural district. However, the children were not allowed to attend it, and their mother's disapproval increased. Margaret forced them to work on Saturdays, purposely served coffee and pork, and even tore up pages of the Bible. Robert eventually agreed with his mother, but the girls persevered in their faith as much as they could, having to walk five miles to attend church in Garwin. As the opposition became more intense, in 1895, Susan and Mary left home and settled in Adel, where they began canvassing at the invitation of S. A. Hill from the Iowa Conference.6

Alongside her sister, Mary participated in the canvassing program at the Des Moines Bible Institute for five and a half years, from 1895 to 1900. They worked in several cities in Iowa, including Adel, Stuart, Winterset, Grinnell, Brooklyn, Marengo, Newton, and Manson City. In June 1900, Mary entered the Nursing program at the Adventist Sanatorium in Des Moines. She wrote to the Iowa Conference in appreciation for the experience she gained at the Bible Institute and, in the letter, she expressed her interest in being a missionary in Spain.7

In the meantime, Mary became friends with a young theology student named Clarence Rentfro, whom she had met through canvassing. In 1903, she graduated in Nursing and, on June 11 of the same year, she married Clarence.8 From their union were born: Charles (1904-), Mirian (1906-), Curtis Standford (1909-), Verna May (1913-1913), and Clarence Alvin Rentfro (1915-1917).9 In June 1904, the couple received an affirmative reply from W. A. Spicer, secretary of the Foreign Missions Committee of the General Conference, to be missionaries in Spain. In September 1904, they boarded the SS Philadelphia ship. Upon arriving in London, where they would make a connection, they received a telegram written “Rentfro-Portugal”, completely changing their plans. Therefore, they traveled to Lisbon where they landed on September 26, 1904, becoming the first Adventist missionaries in Portugal.10

On settling in the country, the Rentfro family encountered some difficulties. The salary they received was insufficient to support the couple and their baby son. Furthermore, Portuguese was different from the language they had learned in preparation for going to Spain. For this reason, they dedicated their first years to learning Portuguese and opened a Sunday School, which years later became Singing School and Sabbath School. As a result of this work, Lucy Portugal became the first person to keep the Sabbath in the country. In February 1906, they opened the first Sabbath School and, in April, they held their first evangelistic meeting. On September 21, 1906, the first baptism was held, carried out by Pastor Ernesto Schwantes. In the following years, the group grew and won an organ from the United States brethren. Clarence played the organ and violin in addition to translating many hymns from English to be sung by the congregation.11

Their missionary activities extended to Lisbon, Caravellos, Porto, and Villa Nova de Gaia. As one of their evangelistic methods, they distributed pamphlets and the book Bible Readings for the Home Circle (translated into Portuguese by them). Mary volunteered as a nurse, helping with childbirth and applying natural treatments, especially to the poor. It is estimated that during the time she lived in Portugal, she helped to deliver 1,000 babies. After treating the wife of the Marquis of Pombal, she gained the trust of the royal family and then treated many of them. In the period when the Rentfro served in Portugal, two churches were founded with approximately 100 members.12

In 1917, the Rentfros accepted the invitation of the General Conference to be missionaries in Brazil, where they landed on April 8, 1917, in Rio de Janeiro.13 Clarence served as director of the Minas Gerais Mission and the Pernambucana Mission.14 Mary acted as a nurse, saving dozens of lives, mainly during the Spanish flu outbreak that reached Brazil in 1918.15 She also assisted in childbirth and assisted patients who suffered mainly from respiratory and intestinal diseases. In Minas, her first aid was essential in the rescue of a five-year-old child who fell out of a house window.16 In 1923, Mary taught Notions of Nursing and Pediatrics at the Brazilian College (now referred UNASP-SP) while Clarence taught Bible.17

In July 1924, Mary became sick, so the family permanently returned to the United States.18 In the following years, she accompanied her husband to pastor churches in North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Michigan until 1938 when they retired.19 After that, they took up residence in the small town of Baldwin Park, California. At the age of 61, Mary passed the test to become a registered nurse and, even as an elderly woman, she worked for decades at the medical clinic managed by her son-in-law DeGrove, who was married to Mirian.20 Later, in 1965, Mary attended a meeting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the current Brazil College (UNASP-SP). The event was organized by Adventist Brazilians living in Southern California.21

Mary Rentfro died on April 26, 1972, at the age of 97, at Inter-Community Hospital in Covina, California, United States.22 Her story is often considered an example of how it is possible to serve God since childhood. Influenced by Sabbath School at the age of four, she persevered in studying the Bible despite her mother's opposition and eventually became a missionary. As a canvasser and nurse, she was able to preach the Gospel to thousands of people in the United States, Portugal, and Brazil.

Sources

“A Nossa História.” Portal da União Portuguesa dos Adventista do Sétimo Dia (Online).

Anderson, Jean M., From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro. Fort Oglethorpe, GA: Teach Services Publishing, 2019.

“Cinquentenário da Obra Adventista em Portugal (1904-1954).” Revista Adventista 49, no. 11 (November 1954).

“Dois Heróis que Tombam.” Revista Adventista 46, no. 12 (December 1951).

Kümpel, Arno E. “Cinquentenário do IAE Comemorado nos Estados Unidos.” Revista Adventista 61, no. 6 (June 1966).

“Minas Geraes.” Revista Adventista 13, no. 2 (February 1918).

“Necrológio.” Revista Adventista 67, no. 8 (August 1972).

Rentfro, Carlos A. “Revendo o Passado em Minas Gerais.” Revista Adventista 58, no. 11 (November 1963).

“Rentfro, Mary Loizette Haskell.” ARH, July 6, 1972.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association. Various years.

Notes

  1. “Necrológio,” Revista Adventista 67, no. 8 (August 1972): 27; Jean M. Anderson, From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro (Fort Oglethorpe, GA: Teach Services Publishing, 2019).

  2. Jean M. Anderson, From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro (Fort Oglethorpe, GA: Teach Services Publishing, 2019).

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ibid.

  8. “Necrológio,” Revista Adventista, 27; Anderson, From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro.

  9. Carlos A. Rentfro, “Revendo o Passado em Minas Gerais,” Revista Adventista 58, no. 11 (November 1963) 27; Anderson, From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro.

  10. “A Nossa História,” Portal da União Portuguesa dos Adventista do Sétimo Dia. Accessed April 3, 2019, https://www.adventistas.org.pt/quem-somos/a-nossa-historia; Anderson, From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro.

  11. Anderson, From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro; “Cinquentenário da Obra Adventista em Portugal (1904-1954),” Revista Adventista 49, no. 11 (November 1954): 24.

  12. Anderson, From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro; “Portuguese Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1905), 78; “Portuguese Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1916), 114.

  13. Anderson, From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro.

  14. “Minas Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1917), 170; “Pernambuco Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1922), 144.

  15. Rentfro, “Revendo o Passado em Minas Gerais,” 27.

  16. “Minas Geraes,” Revista Adventista 13, no. 2 (February 1918): 12; Anderson, From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro.

  17. Anderson, From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro.

  18. Rentfro, “Revendo o Passado em Minas Gerais,” 27, 28.

  19. “North Dakota Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1925), 57; “Ministerial Directory,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1939), 428.

  20. Anderson, From Farm Girl to Missionary: The Life of Mary Haskell Rentfro.

  21. Arno E. Kümpel, “Cinquentenário do IAE Comemorado nos Estados Unidos,” Revista Adventista 61, no. 6 (June 1966): 32.

  22. “Necrológio,” Revista Adventista, 27; “Rentfro, Mary Loizette Haskell,” ARH, July 6, 1972, 22.

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UNASP, The Brazilian White Center –. "Rentfro, Mary Loizette Haskell (1874–1972)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Accessed August 04, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=HGNM.

UNASP, The Brazilian White Center –. "Rentfro, Mary Loizette Haskell (1874–1972)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Date of access August 04, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=HGNM.

UNASP, The Brazilian White Center – (2021, April 28). Rentfro, Mary Loizette Haskell (1874–1972). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved August 04, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=HGNM.