Bishop Monroe Randolph Saunders Sr., who was founder and senior pastor of the First United Church of Jesus Christ Apostolic, now Transformation Church of Jesus Christ, died Friday of cancer at his Ashburton home. He was 89.
Mr. Saunders, the son of farmers, was born and raised in Florence, S.C. He was high school valedictorian and earned a scholarship to Virginia State College for Negroes, now Virginia State University, in Petersburg.
After the death of his eldest brother, he left college and moved to Baltimore to help his sister-in-law raise their four children.
"When he had come to Baltimore upon the death of his brother, he found a church that a lot of his family were attending at the time," said Esther K. Faulkner, a daughter who lives in Woodstock and is an administrator at the church.
"That's when he came to know the Lord as his personal savior. He got the calling at a very young age and from that point, he'd given his life to serve God," she said. "He worked very hard in the ministry and touched a lot of lives."
During World War II, he enlisted in the Army, where he attained the rank of sergeant, and was assigned as a chaplain to troops at Camp Barkeley, Texas.
After the war, Mr. Saunders attended Howard University on the G.I. Bill, earning a bachelor's degree in sociology and later in divinity. He also earned a doctorate of ministry degree, also from Howard.
He was ordained a bishop in 1957, and pastored the Rehoboth Church of God in Washington, before coming to Ashburton in 1965, when he established the First United Church of Jesus Christ Apostolic on Copley Road.
In 1978, Mr. Saunders purchased a 22-acre site and relocated his church to what had been the campus of the old Samuel Ready School on Baltimore National Pike.
"He inspired by example and was a great role model for me and my ministry," said Bishop Monroe R. Saunders Jr., of Ellicott City, who succeeded his father in 1993. "He believed in the holistic approach to the mind, body and spirit."
Mr. Saunders created numerous ministries within the church, some of which included several radio ministries, a home and hospital visitation ministry, a prison ministry, the First United Apostolic Federal Credit Union, and bookstore and library ministry.
He also established the Mariners, an organization for young married couples, a prayer clinic, and a social services department, among others.
"He also was active in outreach ministries to the poor and the elderly," his son said.
Mr. Saunders led the way in getting the Center for More Abundant Life Towers, a 99-unit senior citizen complex for the elderly, built on Calloway Avenue, and Abundant Life Towers II, a similar 60-unit seniors' complex on the church's campus.
He also established the Center for Creative Learning, a state accredited day care center more than 30 years ago.
In 2000, the church's name was changed to Transformation Church of Jesus Christ.
"His work speaks for himself. He had great wisdom and cared for people," Mrs. Faulkner said. "He was a visionary and an awesome leader."
She added: "He was very humorous. Oh my goodness, he just knew how to get you to smile and laugh. He made people feel good about themselves."
Lois M. McMillan has been a member of the church for 43 years church and serves as its historian.
"Bishop Saunders served the church on so many fronts and never developed a super ego. He was not one of those. He was a kind and loving man who brought intelligent leadership to the church and he was a lover of people," said Mrs. McMillan, a professor of English at Morgan State University.
"He loved young people and urged them to pursue their education and not let color be a barrier to achievement," Mrs. McMillan said. "Race was never an excuse. If you loved Jesus, then God was on your side. That was his message."
Mr. Saunders had lived in the same North Hilton Street home overlooking Lake Ashburton for the last 50 years.
"You could call his home at any hour and he'd answer the phone," Mrs. McMillan said.
In 2004, Mr. Saunders he was appointed chief apostle of the United Church of Jesus Christ, Apostolic.
Mr. Saunders enjoyed traveling and reading.
Services will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at his church, 5150 Baltimore National Pike.
Also surviving are his wife of 61 years, the former Alberta Brockington; another son, A. Jason Saunders of Baltimore; three other daughters, Jacqueline F. Johnson of Randallstown, Rachel A. Rawlins and Judith I. Jones, both of Baltimore; two sisters, Margaret Burroughs and Saphronia Harris, both of Florence; 14 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Sun reporter Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.