The Reverend Sal Tatchell 1929-2020

The Reverend Sal Tatchell is believed to be the first Anglican woman ordained in South Australia who has died.

The Rev Sal Tatchell and congregation, c1999


Sal became the first woman ordained in the Diocese of Willochra (SA) when she was made a deacon in 1991. Although General Synod passed legislation allowing women to be priests in 1992, the Willochra synod was opposed and Sal was not ordained a priest until 1999. She was appointed to the parish of Moonta.

Bishop David McCall, the Rev Sal Tatchell and husband ‘Tatch’ Tatchell c1991

Sal reconciled herself to being a deacon although she firmly believed she was a priest in all but title. She was a member of MOW in Adelaide and joined the circle of silence outside St Peter’s Cathedral in the years women could not be priested. At her instigation, the Reverend Helen Havens a priest from the Episcopal Church in the USA who was in Australia in the mid 1980s visited the parish of Whyalla. Sal’s ministry persuaded more than one priest opposed to women’s ordination to change his mind.

Like most of the first generation of women who were ordained, Sal confronted issues around stipend, allowances and how she should be addressed. In 1996, she told Janet Scarfe about some of the absurdities she encountered around clergy titles:

I find at chapter meetings of the deanery it’s ‘Father [This] and ‘Father [That] and ‘Father So and So’ and ‘Sal’. And naturally because I am a female and a newish member to the chapter, I always write out ‘The Reverend Sal Tatchell’. It is something that I need to do to hold my own with the men. ‘The Reverend Sal Tatchell said …’ They have picked me up on it: ‘Why do you always refer to yourself as “The Reverend …”’ I said ‘I can’t refer to myself as “Father” and I am not just “Sal” and you are going to understand that and you are going to give me the dignity that I am accorded.’ So we have got over that now, and I am ‘The Reverend Sal Tatchell’.

Sal was a warm, down to earth, strong woman with a sense of humour who left a lasting legacy in the Diocese of Willochra.

Sal Tatchell baptising grandson Ethan with husband ‘Tatch’ and daughter Jo in Marree

Her story, taken from the eulogy given by her son Christopher at her funeral, is below.

Sal’s Eulogy

Doris Erica Jay, known as Sal in her later years, was born on May 6, 1929 in Dorking, England. She was 9 years old when World War Two started and 15 years old when it finished. Whilst attending the Kingston College of Arts for an arts degree she realised that she was not good enough to make it a success and applied to a North London hospital to train as a nurse. In her second year of training she met Tony Tatchell who was a patient in the hospital and a sailor in the British Merchant Navy. Fraternising with patients was forbidden and mum refused to stop seeing Tony so her nursing training came to an abrupt end. Tony proposed and Sal accepted, but after resuming his life back at sea Tony decided he didn’t want to get married and wrote to say he had changed his mind.

Sal then joined the army as a driver and was posted to Egypt with the Middle East Land Forces. As a result of an Arab raid her back was broken and she was returned to England on a hospital ship and then to military hospitals where she spent six months before being declared medically unfit. She was awarded the King’s Disability medal. A specialist in London helped her walk again and she then applied to resume her nursing training and two years later became a State Registered Nurse.

It was then that Tony walked back into her life and proposed. Sal accepted and they were married on July 21, 1951. They had five children.

In March 1967, Tony and Sal emigrated to Australia with 5 kids, 14 tea chests and 40 pounds. They were housed in Nissan huts in Pennington Hostel, Adelaide and Tony went off to Whyalla to secure a job as a foreman with the Port Waratah Stevedoring on the docks. He was allocated a housing trust semi-detached home and the family joined him in Whyalla.

Sal was always religious and found that religious instruction was not taught in state schools. She joined a group of other mothers and succeeded in getting Religious Instruction implemented. She joined the ministry team at Holy Trinity Church in Whyalla West and was licensed by the Bishop as a Lay Preacher and then as a Pastoral Assistant. She had a radio program on 5AU telling bible stories to children on Sunday mornings and she became a Youth line Counsellor and eventually a Youth line Director in Whyalla.

In 1978 their youngest son Michael was killed in a car crash in Whyalla, which placed enormous strain on their marriage and in 1980 they separated with Sal moving to Moonta Mines where she rented a Miner’s Cottage. After two years Tony was made redundant. He and Sal decided to give it another go and bought the cottage, complete with an outside long drop dunny with red back spiders the size of 50 cent pieces, a bath with a woodchip heater and only 1 power point throughout the whole house.

Sal decided to do some more theological training and made arrangements to enter the Bible College at Malvern in Adelaide to do a 3-year course and obtain her Bachelor of Theology. Ten days before she was due to leave, she received a visit from Bishop Bruce Rosier and she shared with him her plans for the future. Bishop Bruce asked her if she would consider doing a Clinical Pastoral Education course at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital instead and on the spur of the moment she cancelled her arrangements at the Bible College and commenced training at the QEH as a Chaplain, where she obtained a Supervisory level of qualification in Chaplaincy.

Going back to Moonta, Sal was commissioned as a Lay Chaplain in the Parish of Kadina and two years later asked the Bishop to consider ordaining her into the diaconate as she believed God was calling her to the sacred ministry. At the age of 61 she became the first woman to be ordained in the Diocese of Willochra and took up the position of Deacon Assistant in the local parish. Nine years later, at the age of 70, she was ordained to the priesthood and on January 31, 1999, took up her ministry as Priest at Moonta.

Priest, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and great great grandmother and matriarch of the Tatchell clan, that little girl born on May 6, 1929 who passed away on February 14th 2020, had certainly come a long way and touched a lot of people’s lives for the better.

Her funeral was held at St Aidan’s Church, Tanunda.