Leontine T. Kelly
Leontine Turpeau

March 5, 1920
DiedJune 28, 2012(2012-06-28) (aged 92)
OccupationBishop of the United Methodist Church
Known forFirst black woman to become a bishop in a major Christian denomination
  • Gloster Bryant Current
James David Kelly
(m. 1956)
ParentDavid Turpeau
RelativesAnita Turpeau Anderson (sister)
T. J. Anderson (nephew)

Leontine Turpeau Current Kelly (March 5, 1920 – June 28, 2012) was an American bishop of the United Methodist Church. She was the second woman elevated to the position of bishop within the United Methodist Church, and the first African American woman.

Early life and personal life

Leontine Turpeau was born in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., on March 5, 1920.[1][2] She was the seventh of eight children born to David D. Turpeau Senior and Ila Marshall Turpeau.[2][3] The Turpeau family then moved to Cincinnati when Leontine was a young girl.[2] Her father was a Methodist minister who later served four terms in the Ohio House of Representatives. Her mother was an outspoken advocate for women and Blacks and a founder of the Urban League of Cincinnati, Ohio. Her brother, D. Rossman Turpeau was an educator in Cincinnati, Ohio.[4]

From 1938 to 1941, Turpeau attended West Virginia State College. In 1941, she left school to marry Gloster B. Current, who was then serving as the executive director of the NCAAP's Detroit branch. He later became a Methodist pastor. The couple had three children together before getting divorced by the mid-1950s.[5] In 1956, Turpeau married James David Kelly, a United Methodist minister.[6]


Kelly earned a B.A. degree from Virginia Union University (1960) and completed graduate work in economics, history and humanities at North Texas State University, the University of Cincinnati, and the College of William and Mary. She served as a public school teacher in Richmond and Northumberland County, Virginia, for eight years.[5]

Kelly completed the Course of Study for Ordained Ministers in the Virginia Annual Conference of the U.M. Church by attending summer school at Wesley Theological Seminary (1970, 1971). She earned her M.Div. degree from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia (1976).[6]


Kelly became a Certified Lay Speaker in Virginia in the late-1960s. She then served the Galilee Church (1969–75). She was ordained a deacon by William R. Cannon in 1972 and an elder by W. Kenneth Goodson in 1977.[5]

Kelly served on the staff of the Virginia Conference Council on Ministries (1975–77), directing social ministries. She then served as pastor of Asbury-Church Hill in Richmond, Virginia seven years before becoming Assistant General Secretary of the U.M. General Board of Discipleship with the portfolio of Evangelism.[7]

Although a member of the Virginia Annual Conference in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, Kelly was elected to the episcopacy by the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church in 1984. The election was held on July 19, during the annual General Conference of the United Methodist Church.[8] She was only the second woman, and the first African American woman, to become a bishop in any major Christian denomination in the world. She was assigned to the San Francisco Episcopal Area, where she served until her retirement in 1988.[6] Kelly also served on the U.M. General Board of Church and Society, as the President of the Western Jurisdictional College of Bishops, and on the executive committee of the Council of Bishops.[9]

Awards and honors

In 2000, Kelly was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[7] She was the 2002 recipient of the Thomas Merton Award.[10]

Kelly held honorary doctorates from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (1984), DePauw University (1989), Christian Theological Seminary (1989), Virginia Union University (1989), Nebraska Wesleyan University (also 1989), Bennett College (1991),[11] Willamette University (1990)[12] and Dillard University (1992).[13]


Kelly died on June 28, 2012, in Oakland, California.[4]


  1. ^ "Leontine Turpeau Current Kelly". UMC General Commission on Archives and History: Archives and History. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Noland, Claire (July 7, 2012). "Leontine T.C. Kelly dies at 92; first black woman bishop in a major Christian denomination". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  3. ^ Ask the UMC (February 17, 2022). "Who are Black Women Pioneers in US Methodism?". United Methodist Insight. United Methodist Church. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "Leontine Kelly Dead: African-American United Methodist Woman Bishop Dies At 92". Huffington Post. June 30, 2012. Retrieved June 30, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Murphy, Larry G.; Melton, J. Gordon; Ward, Gary L. (November 20, 2013). Encyclopedia of African American Religions. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-51338-2.
  6. ^ a b c "Guide to the Leontine Turpeau Current Kelly Collection". catalog.gcah.org. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Kelly, Leontine T.C." National Women’s Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  8. ^ Broughton, Patricia (August 1984). ""And the Word became flesh": two more women bishops for UMC" (PDF). The Flyer. General Commission on the Status and Role of Women in the United Methodist Church. pp. 1, 4–5. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  9. ^ Gilbert, Kathy L. (June 28, 2012). "Bishop Leontine Kelly dies at 92". United Methodist News Service. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  10. ^ "2018 Thomas Merton Award". thomasmertoncenter. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  11. ^ "FOUR AWARDED HONORARY DEGREES BY BENNETT COLLEGE". Greensboro News and Record. May 27, 1991. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  12. ^ "Honorary Degree/Commencement Speaker History". willamette.edu. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  13. ^ "Dillard University | Honorary Degree Recipients". www.dillard.edu. Archived from the original on February 19, 2022. Retrieved February 19, 2022.