Obituary: The Rev. Bruce C. Stewart / Seminary president, pastor
Aug. 8, 1924 - Dec. 25, 2016
December 30, 2016 7:26 PM
The Rev. Bruce C. Stewart
By Peter Smith / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Rev. Bruce C. Stewart held numerous important titles within his small denomination, including serving more than 20 years as president of Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Point Breeze.
But he was never self-important, colleagues said in the wake of Rev. Stewart’s death on Christmas Day.
“What struck people was his kindness and humility,” said the Rev. Wayne Spear, a retired seminary professor who knew Rev. Stewart for the past seven decades. “Those were two really strong characteristics.”
The current seminary president, the Rev. Jerry F. O’Neill, recalled the graciousness with which the accomplished Rev. Stewart would respond to seminarians’ first attempts at the pulpit.
“Somehow, without lying, he could approach every student after he had preached in chapel and say, ‘That was very helpful!’” Rev. O’Neill said in a written tribute. “I don’t know how that was possible, but I believe for Bruce it was. He was helped by every sermon.”
Rev. Stewart, of McCandless, who was 92 at the time of his death, is remembered as one who expanded the seminary’s reach, raising its standards while preparing it for a successful bid for accreditation and recruiting students from other denominations, including nearby African-American churches.
He was born in Philadelphia on Aug. 8, 1924 and attended Swarthmore College, where he stood out in tennis and basketball, before transferring to and graduating from Geneva College in Beaver Falls.
He graduated from Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1948 with a master’s of divinity degree. While a student there, he married Roselyn Dougall.
He served as a pastor in Massachusetts, Colorado and California over the next 25 years. Throughout that time, he was continuing to attend college or seminary classes, recalled his daughter, Cynthia Gropp.
“He was involved in everything,” she added. “He was the head of the football boosters club in school, he was in Kiwanis.” Yet he always made time to attend his children’s sports and other activities.
She added: “I don’t ever remember him saying a disparaging word about anyone. He was always so positive and helpful.”
Rev. Stewart returned to Pittsburgh in 1973 to become professor of pastoral theology at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He served as president from 1976 to 1995.
The seminary, like Geneva College, is affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, a small denomination committed to the infallibility of the Bible and to theology in the tradition of Protestant Reformer John Calvin. Rev. Stewart also served as clerk of synod for the denomination.
Rev. Spear said the Rev. Stewart first made an impression on him when the former was a teenager and the latter was a young pastor helping lead a church summer camp. “One thing I remember is his sense of humor as he interacted especially with other pastors at the camp,” said Rev. Spear, who will deliver the eulogy at Rev. Stewart’s funeral today. “He was quite cheerful and jovial.”
The two later got together regularly when serving as pastors of Southern California parishes before serving on the seminary faculty together.
“He was always thoroughly prepared for whatever he had to do, for lectures and all the other parts of his work,” Rev. Spear said. “He got an enormous amount of work done and never seemed to be in a hurry and always had time for people.”
The seminary achieved accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools after years of upgrading the faculty, library and other operations.
“Before that we had been largely just a denominational seminary, but when we were accredited, it made us attractive to people of other denominations as well,” said Rev. Spear. Students, including African-American pastors from nearby Baptist and other denominations’ churches, increasingly attended. “That was very enriching for the seminary.”
After retiring from the seminary, Rev. Stewart continued to preach extensively in the United States and abroad.
He was predeceased by his wife, Roselyn Stewart. He is survived by their four children, Douglas Stewart, Cynthia Gropp, Donald Stewart and Bradley Stewart, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held today at 11:30 a.m. at Sherwood Oaks, 100 Norman Drive, Cranberry.
Peter Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416; Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.
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