1896-1986 (Holt) ca. 1890-1980 (Ness)
Julianne Mathea Holt was born in Stokke, Norway, January 23, 1896. She was confirmed on October 2, 1910. In 1916, she immigrated to America and lived in Brockton, Massachusetts. In the spring of 1920, while traveling with a friend from Brockton, Signe O. Ness, the two read of an appeal by Dr. Carl Adolf Lonnquist, Director of Bethphage Mission in Axtell, Nebraska. He was asking “for young, strong Christian women” to come to serve at Bethphage. The institution, which was then in its seventh year, served people with epilepsy and also other “guests,” as they were called, who were ill or disabled.
The two had already considered becoming deaconesses, Signe Ness at Omaha, and Julianne Holt at Chicago. They decided to go to Bethphage “for a couple of years.” They were there by August, 1920, and remained all their lives.
Sister Julianne and Sister Signe were consecrated on September 27, 1896 in Zion Lutheran Church at Bethphage. Sister Julianne served for seven years in the various houses that made up the Bethphage Mission. She then served as assistant to Sister Aurora Swanberg, the Directing Sister, until Sister Aurora died in 1945. Sister Julianne was elected as Directing Sister, serving in this position until she retired. In 1976, she became a resident in the Methodist Memorial Homes where she received tender and loving care. But her final years were filled with pain, and the Bethphage community rejoiced “when she went to her heavenly home.” During her lifetime, she had been “sister” and “mother” to hundreds of guests and workers at Bethphage. She was noted for her service in the name of Christ and for her great compassion. A fellow worker at Bethphage said the she was content with the simple things in life and expected others to be satisfied with their lots in life.
Sister Signe’s father died several months before she was born in Brockton, Massachusetts. She was raised by an aunt and uncle and was baptized and confirmed in First Lutheran Church there. When she came to Bethphage, she also served in various houses there. She then served as assistant to another sister at the Bethphage Hospice in Colorado Springs. After she served 17 years there, the hospice closed and she returned to Axtell, where she assisted where needed. She helped with sewing and with the Occupational Therapy Department. She also taught Sunday School at Zion Church. She retired in 1957. In her later years, she lived at Home Bethesda and then in Christian Homes, Holdrege, Nebraska.
Sister Signe died on February 5, 1980 and Sister Julianne on February 28, 1986. They were each buried in the Bethphage cemetery after a service in Zion Church.
We do not have much information on individual sisters of Bethphage, and we do not have a good picture of Sister Signe. During its history, the diaconate at Bethphage included 22 sisters and five brothers. The last deaconess died in 1988. A 1944 book about Bethphage’s early years can be found on the web here. It has a group picture of the deaconesses at Bethphage on page 77.