In the late 1940s, as M. Alicia Corea studied for the ministry, many tried to nudge her off the path to the pulpit. Seminary professors told her she had no right to preach, and some of the strongest opposition to ordination was voiced by those she knew well: women married to ministers.
Her husband, the Rev. Peter Corea, was the minister at Houghs Neck Congregational Church in Quincy when she graduated in 1949 from Andover Newton Theological School. Committees overseeing ordination were split evenly between clergy and laity, and in those days the nonclergy members usually were the ministers’ wives.
“And the pastors’ wives told her very clearly that she shouldn’t be going into the ministry, that she should just be a good pastor’s wife and leave it at that,” said the Rev. John Castricum, the current pastor at Houghs Neck Congregational Church. “She didn’t listen to them and went ahead and got ordained. She’s a real inspiration to a whole generation of women going into ministry.”
Rev. Corea, who was one of the first women ordained in Massachusetts, died Sunday in hospice care in Walnut Creek, Calif. She was 91 and had moved from Quincy to California in 2010 to live closer to her son.
Ordained on May 5, 1949, she began sharing duties with her husband, eventually becoming co-pastor after facing many challenges.
“Alicia was just legendary,” Castricum said. “She was a real trailblazer when it came to women in ministry. In the United Church of Christ, we ordained the first women in the 1800s, but that doesn’t mean it was easy for women going into the ministry.”
Rev. Corea’s son Bill of San Ramon, Calif., said that as she worked with the committee for her ordination, “one of the ministers’ wives was very haughty and said: ‘What makes you think you’re any different from any other run-of-the-mill minister’s wife?’ ”
Even years later, her son said, “she told me that a woman came up to her after a service and said: ‘I expected to see you struck dead from the pulpit, a woman preaching.’ ”
Overcoming resistance with kindness and forgiveness, Rev. Corea split ministerial duties with her husband. Accomplished at the keyboard, she would play the organ and preach the sermon at the early service while her husband led the worship. For the second, larger service, they reversed roles: She led the worship while he preached the sermon.
“She also had a very deep connection with the elderly population, so she would do nursing home services,” said her godson, Peter Johnston of Quincy, a longtime organist who is now studying for the ministry.
Once a month, after the two church services, Rev. Corea would go to the William B. Rice Eventide retirement home in Quincy, where she would lead a third service.
“Alicia was very warm and really cared about what was going on in the community,” said Johnston.
“She looked inside of people, saw their potential, and helped them achieve it,” he added. “Her ministry is one of the reasons I’m going into ministry.”
Born Mina Alicia Coffin, she was named after an aunt and always went by her middle name to avoid confusion in her family.
She grew up in the small town of Ashland, Maine, and her father moved the family 150 miles south to Bangor so she could attend a larger high school.
“He was an insurance salesman, and his business was in Ashland, but he commuted 150 miles both ways every weekend so his daughter could have a better education,” her son said.
Rev. Corea studied history and journalism at he University of Maine in Orono, from which she graduated in 1943. She spent a year at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln on a Danforth graduate fellowship, followed by a summer as a service worker on the Cheyenne reservation in South Dakota.
Returning to New England, she attended Andover Newton, where she met Peter Corea, another student. They married on June 1, 1946, and he was ordained the following year, after being called to serve as minister of Houghs Neck Congregational Church.
Peter Corea also taught at Emerson College and served on boards, including one for the Quincy Housing Authority. As his work outside the church increased, hers increased inside the church.
She prepared the newsletter, visited hospitalized members of the congregation, and worked with the diaconate and with groups focusing on the needs of female parishioners.
Outside the church she was the scribe and moderator for a regional association of Congregational churches and served on the board of the Woodward School for Girls in Quincy.
“She was a constant presence in the community,” said Carol Johnston of Quincy, a longtime friend and Peter’s mother. “She was welcoming and warm, and she was the most gracious person I ever knew.”
With her husband, Rev. Corea created scholarship funds in Quincy and privately helped parishioners in many ways, from offering financial assistance to giving someone a car if the need arose. A scholarship fund for the Pilgrim Association of the United Church of Christ’s Massachusetts Conference is named for her, as is the fellowship hall at Houghs Neck Congregational Church.
The Coreas helped “not hundreds of people, but thousands of people,” said Sam Rounseville of Quincy, who was a member of their congregation. “One of her favorite things to say was, ‘Adversity strengthens.’ I always remember that.”
Rev. Corea retired in 2003, two years after her husband died. During 54 years of ministry, she “was there for several generations of people,” Peter Johnston said. “She saw them go from being born and baptized to being married and in some cases buried.”
A memorial service will be announced for Rev. Corea, who in addition to her son leaves her brother, Charles Coffin of Mansfield.
As copastors, Alicia and Peter Corea divided duties for Communion, “and my mother would serve the bread,” her son said.
“The Communion table was up at the head of the church, and they would sit up behind the table,” he recalled. “As the ushers went through the aisles, they would sit there and hold hands.”
Often called on by his parents to read Scripture during services while he was growing up, Bill Corea went back to visit the church for the end of his mother’s ministry.
“The last time she served Communion, I served it with her,” he recalled, “and as we sat there behind the table, she held my hand.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard @globe.com.