ca. 1861 – 1940
Sister Cecilia Nelson was an Immanuel Deaconess who entered the diaconate in 1889. She trained in Philadelphia and went to Sweden with Sister Bothilda Svenson, the first Immanuel deaconess, in October 1889 to finish her training.
On October 6, 1895, the Augustana Lutheran Church in Minneapolis received word that Sister Cecilia Nelson was available as parish sister. A member of the Board of Deacons of the church agreed to be responsible for her room rent for a year. By November, she had arrived in Minneapolis and was caring for sick in their homes, distributing food and clothing where needed, helping in parish and Sabbath school (she was said to be the first teaching sister) and visiting hospitals and institutions of correction.
Sister Cecilia is sitting on the right. The standing deaconess is Sister Bothilda Svenson. Pastor Petri and his wife are pictured with inmates of the home.Sister Cecilia is sitting on the right. The standing deaconess is Sister Bothilda Svenson. Pastor Petri and his wife are pictured with inmates of the home.
With the Rev. Cark J. Petri of the Augustana Lutheran Church, she helped organize the Augustana Mission Colony in Minneapolis, which opened its first cottage in 1896. Its first guests were an aged woman, a blind girl, and a small child. Sister Cecilia is shown in an early picture at the cottage. Apparently part of her work was at the Mission Colony. In 1897, she attended the second conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Deaconess Motherhouses in the United States, although she was a visitor, not a delegate.
Sister Cecilia married the Rev. Johan Emil Hedberg on February 20, 1905. Pastor Hedberg’s first wife had died. Sister Cecilia was stepmother to his 8 children.
Sister Cecilia is a “lost sister” for whom we had no biographical records or directory entries, until her name came to light in records of the Augustana Mission Colony in Minneapolis. Information was gathered from these records (which were confusing because she was called both Sister Cecilia Nelson and Sister Cecilia Hedberg), from very brief mention in histories of Immanuel Deaconess Institute, in reports of the Lutheran Deaconess Motherhouses conference and in pastors’ records where her husband was listed and where her marriage was confirmed. The dates and places of Sister Cecilia’s birth, consecration, and death are currently unknown.
Per Ancestry.com, the 1905 Minnesota State Census listed Cecilia Nelson as the wife of John E. Hedberg, minister, and age 44 as of June, putting her birthdate as ca. 1861. Per the ELCA Archives, the index for Augustana Synod pastors listed her obituary in the Lutheran Companion. It gives her birth date as March 23, 1861 in Scandian Grove, Minn., daughter of Rev. and Mrs. John S. Nelson. She died July 26, 1940. She was consecrated April 20, 1892.