Elisabeth Djurle Olander was one of the first three women to be ordained as priests in the Church of Sweden in 1960.
Elisabeth Djurle Olander was 28 years old when the Church of Sweden held its annual meeting on 27 September 1957 where it was decided that women could become priests. That year she had gained her Bachelor’s degree in theology at Lund University and then, in the autumn, she had begun practical training to become a priest in Lund. She had received her calling to become a priest earlier and the decision taken at that church meeting allowed her to then fulfil her calling. Her background was activism in the Christian high school association of Sweden (KGF) in Växjö diocese where she had attended youth camps and other youth meetings. When she was 21 she was invited to participate in a youth week by KGF in Växjö diocese which included evangelising. Elisabeth Djurle Olander felt encouraged and contributed by preaching during religious services for several years during the early 1950s, within the framework of the KGF.
Elisabeth Djurle Olander was ordained as a priest in Stockholm diocese at the Storkyrka by Bishop Helge Ljungberg. Ingrid Persson and Margit Sahlin were also ordained at the same time. Elisabeth Djurle Olander then went on to have a long career in the parishes of Nacka, Spånga, and Vällingby. She served as a curate, assistant minister, vicar and rural dean. When she retired in 1995 Henrik Svenungsson, the bishop in Stockholm, appointed her prost honoris causa (honorary minister).
During Elisabeth Djurle Olander’s ordination in 1960 priests and theologians who opposed the Church of Sweden’s decision and the ordination demonstrated noisily outside the church. Inside the church there were TV cameras and journalists. To Elisabeth Djurle Olander all of that was irrelevant. In her memoirs, written a long time afterwards, she commented that: “Initially there were those who demonstrated against it. I never reciprocated but just stood firm in my calling as priest and my service to the church.”
Elisabeth Djurle Olander emphasised spiritual care, preaching, and religious services in her priestly activity. She stated that the texts of her sermons were in accordance with the liturgical year: “The role of the priest is to make them [the texts] real, relevant to real life, so that they reverberate with people and their personal situations”. Another important part of her service as priest was bereavement care and pastoral care, in which confidentiality was central. In her experience she found that parishioners were relieved to be able to choose between speaking to a male or a female priest. She did not, however, want to exaggerate the differences: “It is important that we learn from each other’s life experiences and that we complement each other”, she is known to have said. When, towards the end of her life, she summarised her life as a priest she said: “Everything seemed like a gift to me and a missive for service in Christ’s footsteps”.
Elisabeth Djurle Olander married engineer Nils-Gustav Olander in 1968. They had three children together. Elisabeth Djurle Olander died in 2014 and is buried at the Norra cemetery in Solna.