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Carolyn Tanner Irish, first woman to lead a major denomination in Utah, dies at 81

The Rt. Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish announces that The Rev. Canon Scott Hayashi has accepted the Bishop position in Salt Lake City on May 22, 2010. Bishop Tanner Irish died Tuesday at the age of 81.

The Rt. Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish announces that The Rev. Canon Scott Hayashi has accepted the Bishop position in Salt Lake City on May 22, 2010. Bishop Tanner Irish died Tuesday at the age of 81. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Carolyn Tanner Irish, the 10th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, died Tuesday at the age of 81.

The Right Rev. Scott Hayashi, who replaced Bishop Tanner Irish as bishop in 2010, said in a statement that she passed surrounded by family in her Salt Lake City home.

Bishop Tanner Irish paved the way as the first female bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah and the first woman to lead a major denomination in Utah, as well as the first individual female recipient of the Giant in Our City Award from the Salt Lake Chamber. She was also involved in philanthropy and Utah politics, championing environmental protection and immigration reform, among other causes.

The daughter of prominent businessman Obert C. Tanner, she was raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. Her family's deep connection to the church dates back to its earliest days.

She endured loss from an early age, as three of her five siblings died of unrelated causes before they reached adulthood. Her struggles led her to a long journey to find faith, which in turn led her to the Episcopal Church. In 1979, she enrolled in seminary as a single mother with four children under 10. Later in life, she also went through a divorce and alcoholism.

"She was a person of great resilience," Bishop Hayashi said. "And for her to be as unfailingly generous as she was after all she had gone through — it speaks volumes."

In 1996, she was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, the third female diocesan bishop ever elected in the United States and the fourth in the world. Before the election, she received notes and calls from Latter-day Saint women asking what they could do help her get elected, explained Bishop Hayashi.

"They were so excited to see a Utah woman being considered for this office," he said. "She reached across religious lines just with her election, and that's not even the tip of the iceberg."

After almost four decades living away from her childhood home, she returned to Salt Lake City to lead over 6,000 people comprising 22 parishes across Utah and northern Arizona. She was a pioneer for women in the Episcopal Church, nominating Katharine Jefferts Schori for election as bishop, and Schori went on to become the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church of the United States.

And in finding her faith and her place in the world, she also found a happy life with her family and her marriage to Frederick Quinn after all her struggles.

"I love my life," Bishop Tanner Irish told the Deseret News in an interview in 2004. "I have four great children. I have a wonderful husband. And I love my work."

Her legacy was one of generosity, said Bishop Hayashi.

"When she gave, which she did often, there was no sense that she wanted anything in return. It was freely given throughout the entire state of Utah, to all religious faiths and traditions. That is a testament and a sign of her generous, giving heart and soul," he said.

Service Details

Date and Time

Tuesday, July 6 at 3:00 p.m.

Location

The Cathedral Church of St. Mark

231 E. 100 South

Salt Lake City, UT 84111

It will also be streamed live at https://tinyurl.com/CTImemorial.

Health and Safety Protocols

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination required. If you cannot provide proof of vaccination, you will be required to wear a mask at all times.

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