Ellen Murasaki-Wekall

January 30, 1925 – March 4, 2024

The Rev. Ellen Speyer Murasaki-Wekall, Ph.D., priest of the Diocese of Los Angeles, and counselor and spiritual advisor to dozens of its clergy and lay leaders, died March 4. She was 99.

Survivors include her son, Kiyoshi Murasaki; grandchildren Christopher, Maria and Daniel Bueno, children of her daughter Erika Murasaki Bueno, who died in 2005; four stepchildren and their families; and four great-grandchildren.  Murasaki-Wekall also was predeceased by her second and third husbands, Jack Murasaki and Gene Wekall.

A memorial service is planned for Friday, April 5, 3 p.m. at Church of our Saviour, 535 W. Roses Road, San Gabriel 91775. (Clergy will not vest.)

Wekall, a psychotherapist, served on the Commission on Ministry for many years before and after her own ordination, helping her fellow commissioners and a succession of bishops, from Robert C. Rusack to John Harvey Taylor, understand and evaluate the psychological health of candidates for Holy Orders. She was director of the diocese’s chaplaincy program at Los Angeles County jails and hospitals, a ministry now carried out by The Center for Lay Chaplaincy/PRISM. She also served on Diocesan Council, was president of Deanery 8, and was elected a deputy or alternate deputy to several meetings of General Convention.

At various times Murasaki-Wekall was a social worker at Vista Del Mar, a child and family services institution in Santa Monica; executive director at the Pomona-based Santa Anita Family Service; a hypnotherapist at UCLA; and psychotherapist in private practice.

After ordination to the diaconate and later the priesthood, she served at St. George’s Church, La Canada; Church of the Ascension, Tujunga (now closed); and St. Athanasius’ Church, Los Angeles; and as supply priest at the Chapel of St. Francis in L.A.’s Atwater Village. She also served for a time as interim pastor at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Granada Hills. Later she joined the staff at Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel, where she continued to serve as long as she was physically able.

Throughout her lay and ordained ministry she was a frequent retreat leader, pastoral counselor, spiritual director and trainer and a consultant to congregations.

Ellen Speyer was born in Cologne, Germany, on Jan. 30, 1925 to Ludwig Speyer, a Jewish doctor and Prussian general, and his wife Lucy Marx Speyer. The family fled Germany for London in 1938 after Kristaalnacht; Ellen and her sister were sent to England’s northern countryside with other Jewish refugee children. The family then relocated to New York City, where Ellen graduated from high school and attended New York University, where she was on the student council; co-founded and edited the Night Owl Reporter, a school magazine; and was named outstanding senior upon her graduation in 1956. Her hobbies at that time included folk dance; she did exhibition dances in New York and later in Los Angeles.

During her childhood she attended Catholic services with her nanny, whose brother was a priest. In early adulthood she joined a Presbyterian church.

Following college at NYU she worked for the YMCA in the city. After a brief first marriage, she moved to Arizona, where she worked in public assistance and child welfare on a Native American reservation. She later relocated to California to attend USC, where she earned a master’s degree in social work in 1961. In that year she also married Jack Murasaki. They adopted two children, and the family attended his parish, St. Mary’s (Mariposa), Los Angeles. Murasaki died in 1978.

Ellen earned a doctorate in psychology at Colorado Christian University in 1973, followed by a degree in theology from Bloy House-Episcopal Theological School at Claremont (now Los Angeles) in 1986. She was ordained a vocational deacon by Bishop Chet Talton on Nov. 9, 1996. She later discerned a call to the priesthood, and was ordained to that order by Bishop J. Jon Bruno on Jan. 22, 2005. Her ministry as a priest was her proudest achievement, according to her friend and fellow priest the Rev. Canon Patricia O’Reilly.

In 1984 Ellen Murasaki married Gene Wekall, former business editor of the Santa Ana Register, public relations professional, and executive recruiter. She taught him centering prayer practices, a skill he later taught to inmates when he became a volunteer prison chaplain specializing in meditation. He died in 2014.

Ellen Wekall remained active as a priest and counselor even in retirement at the Atherton Life Care Community in Alhambra. “Those who work here sometimes come talk about their lives and their problems,” she told Bishop Taylor when he visited her in July 2023. She joined the Atherton’s food committee, contributing recipes to their newsletter, and volunteered in the facility’s store – active and engaged to the end.