History Makers: Dolores E. Lee McCabe

In celebration of Black History Month, we talked with four current Black leaders who are creating legacies of justice and shaping our lived history today, asking them, “Who from Black history inspires you?” This series invites you to journey with us as we profile the historical leaders from Black History whose legacies continue to inspire contemporary change makers. Today’s leader is Dr. Dolores E Lee McCabe.

About Delores E. Lee McCabe:

Dr. Dolores E. Lee McCabe is a trailblazing figure whose life and ministry have left an indelible mark on the landscape of gender equality, advanced the church’s prophetic witness against gun violence, and resulted in many people turning to Christ. Born in 1944, she has dedicated over four decades to ministry.

From a young age, McCabe had all the markings of being a gifted preacher but, because she was a girl, her gifts for proclaiming God’s Word were often overlooked. Embarking on her ministry in 1977 at Eastern University, McCabe swiftly emerged as a leader, pioneering counseling, tutoring, and summer programs. Her passion for pastoral care was matched only by her dedication to challenging the status quo within the church. In 1990, after facing repeated rejections from several congregations she had served, McCabe made history when she became the first woman ordained by her congregation.

However, it was not just her own path she paved. Dr. Lee McCabe’s mentorship of fellow women clergy leaders stands as a cornerstone of her legacy. Challenging male clergy members in both her own family and in her other spheres of influence to consider women’s ordination, she empowered a new generation of women to shatter glass ceilings and claim their rightful place as clergy members. During her ministry, McCabe mentored women preparing for ministry and dedicated herself to preparing them as clergy-members.

McCabe made a unique impact on the ministry of Dr. Kimberlee “K-lee” Johnson. As McCabe got to know Johnson, she noticed that though Johnson was a licensed pastor, she had not yet obtained her ordination. McCabe called Johnson’s pastor and inquired why she wasn’t ordained, stating that her call to ministry was evident. After a short conversation, Johnson’s pastor was moved to reconsider his position of reserving ordination for men only, finally ordaining Johnson. McCabe later recounted, “I believe that God meant for me to talk to her pastor.” McCabe knew that challenging questions, asked at the right time, hold the power to help us recognize the ways we are constraining the work God is doing in a particular church or context. This small act, done with great boldness, established the ordination of a pastor who has gone on to become the Dean of Palmer Seminary at Eastern University and who is now building a pipeline of pastors across the country.

McCabe’s ministry extended far beyond the confines of the pulpit. During her first week as pastor of Millcreek Church, the deadliest mass murder in Philadelphia history took place just a few streets over from her church. Known as the Lex Street Massacre, it killed seven people. This event, as well as the loss of her 21-year-old nephew to a random act of gun violence a number of years later, spurred McCabe to take action. Hosting rallies, marches, memorial services, and gun buyback events, she became a valued board member of the Philadelphia-based anti-gun violence organization Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence.

McCabe also preached and evangelized globally during her ministry, participating in efforts of recovery and reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda and undertaking mission trips to various countries, including the Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, China, and Korea. Her evangelizing, both globally and locally, led to the conversion of many, including over a dozen who attended her nephew’s funeral.

Retirement has not dulled McCabe’s passion or dimmed her resolve. Engaged in prayer, writing, and reflection, McCabe continues to inspire with her unwavering commitment to justice and her passion for ministry. From breaking barriers within the church to confronting the scourge of gun violence, McCabe has left an indelible mark on the landscape of ministry, inspiring others to follow in her footsteps and continue the work of building a more just, peaceful, and equitable world for all.


Today’s History Maker Profile was nominated by a current history maker, Dr. Kimberlee A. (“K-lee”) Johnson. Johnson is an educator, activist, advocate, preacher, and clergy leader. She serves as the Dean of Palmer Seminary at Eastern University. She is also the founder and leader of the Fellowship of Women Clergy, an organization that ministers by providing a setting for the intentional and mutual edification of women clergy. Her devotion to Christ and commitment to loving her neighbor have fueled decades of social justice activities, particularly advocacy work for youth and criminal justice system changes. Her range of ministry experience has touched people of all ages, walks of life, and many cross-cultural contexts. Her passions are preaching, gardening, and traveling.

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