Rev. T. E. Harper, 89; Was A W. Phila. Pastor

Posted: January 11, 1996

The Rev. Theophilus E. Harper, 89, retired pastor of St. Matthew's A.M.E. Church in West Philadelphia, died at Atlantic City Medical Center Sunday following a short illness.

The former West Philadelphia resident had lived in Atlantic City for the last several years.

A South Carolina native, Mr. Harper was a graduate of Allen University in Columbia, S.C. He also took courses at Fisk University in Nashville.

He served for seven years in South Carolina and five in Alabama. While in Alabama, he also was president of Daniel Payne College in Birmingham from 1945 to 1948.

For the next seven years, he was the pastor of St. James A.M.E. Church in Atlantic City.

Mr. Harper was the pastor of St. Matthew's, at 57th and Summer Streets, from 1955 to 1980. With about 2,000 members, St. Matthew's is the largest African Methodist Episcopal church in the city.

``He built up the congregation and installed the $140,000 pipe organ while he was there,'' said Callie Harper, his wife of 52 years. ``He was the type of pastor who really pastored to the people.''

The Rev. Richard F. Norris, St. Matthew's current pastor, described him as a ``compassionate, kind of folksy person. He had a way with children and young people. He had a great interest in them.''

Mr. Norris, who began his ministry in the late 1950s during Mr. Harper's term, recalled that Mr. Harper had established a scholarship program for young people at the church.

``I was licensed to preach under him, and he was responsible for the scholarship that sent me to undergraduate school,'' Mr. Norris said.

After leaving the pastorship in 1980, Mr. Harper served as presiding elder at St. Matthew's until retiring in 1993.

Mr. Harper was involved with the NAACP and was a charter member of the Opportunities Industrialization Center Inc. While pastor at St. Matthew's, he served on the Philadelphia Housing Authority. He also was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Harper is survived by a son, Theophilus L.; four daughters, Brenda Harper-Davis, Linda K., Byronette Watson and Amy H. Prewitt; six grandchildren, one great-grandchild and two sisters.

A viewing will be held at St. Matthew's from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday, followed immediately by a service. Burial will be in Greenwood Cemetery in Pleasantville, N.J.

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