Rita Lee Chiu, sister of first female Anglican priest, mourned

Rita Lee Chiu helped establish the Florence Li Tim-Oi Memorial Award, which offers scholarship for students studying social work at Renison University College, an Anglican affiliate of Ontario's University of Waterloo. Photo: Contributed
Published April 22, 2016


Friends and family are remembering Rita Lee Chiu-sister of the Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first female Anglican priest-for her humility, her generosity and her love of people and God.

“She was just a fun person who loved learning, loved people-she surrounded herself with lots of good people, and then she just enjoyed…the human contact, to the very last day of her life,” Chiu’s niece, Sze Sze Lee, told the Anglican Journal.

Chiu, 101, died in her sleep March 23. Her funeral was held April 2 at St. John’s Anglican Church in Toronto’s Willowdale neighbourhood, says Bonnie Booth, a longtime friend. The Rev. Christopher Hall, son of Bishop Ronald Hall, who ordained Li Tim-Oi, in Hong Kong in 1944, gave the homily.

Chiu’s contributions to society were many, Booth and Lee say. She founded, in 1994, the Li Tim-Oi Foundation, a UK-based agency sponsoring the education and training of women in developing countries. She and her husband, Siu Ting Chui, established the Florence Li Tim-Oi Memorial Award, a scholarship for students studying social work at Renison University College, an Anglican affiliate of Ontario’s University of Waterloo. The bulk of her estate will go to the foundation, Lee says, with much of the remainder going to the church.

Chiu was born, like her older sister, in Hong Kong, but spent much of her life in Europe, where she worked as a research analyst for the UN’s International Labour Organization, Lee says. She came to Canada in the 1980s, and helped her sister emigrate from China. She was married twice, and predeceased by both husbands. She had no children.

“She was just a phenomenal woman. She spoke several languages, and literally travelled the world,” Booth remembers. Both sisters, she says, were unusually humble and generous, and possessed of deep faith.

“She didn’t want to miss a day to go to church,” recalls Lee.

Tim-Oi was ordained as a priest during the Second World War, when many Anglican clergy had fled Hong Kong after the occupation of the colony by the Japanese. It was nearly three decades before any Anglican church formally allowed the ordination of women, and when the church reacted against her ordination, Tim-Oi gave up her licence, though she continued her ministry in China. She died in Toronto in 1992.


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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