Dr. John Ross Sutherland, pastor of the First Presbyterian church of Burlington since February, 1896, was born in Oxford county, Ontario, a son of Alexander Campbell and Margaret (Ross) Sutherland. His father was born in Sutherlandshire, Scotland, representing one of the oldest families of that land, the shire being named in honor of his ancestors. Earlier generations of the family became prominent in business and professional life. Alexander C. Sutherland was reared to manhood in his native country, and was there married, his wedding journey being a trip to Canada, where he settled, turning his attention to a general contracting business. He resided there until his death, becoming successful in business life and prominent in local political circles, being recognized as one of the leaders of the Conservative party. He did not seek office, however, but wielded a wide influence in matters affecting general welfare. An active member of the Presbyterian church, he served for many years as one of its elders. His death occurred in 1889, and his wife survived him for only a few hours, passing away on the night following his burial. They were the parents of seven children.
Dr. Sutherland acquired his early education in the schools of his native town, and prepared for college at the grammar school in Woodstock, Ontario, subsequent to which time he matriculated in Knox College, Toronto, and later continued his studies in Toronto University. His preparation for the ministry was made as a student in Auburn Theological Seminary at Auburn, N. Y., and in the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Ill., following which he was ordained by the presbytery at Indianapolis, Ind. His first pastorate was at Grand Haven, Mich., where he remained for six years, his labors there being crowned with marked success, his church growing in numerical and spiritual strength. At one time eighty-seven people were received into the church as the result of special meetings held by Dr. Sutherland. At other times additions were made to the membership, and thus the church grew in strength and in the power of its influence. On leaving Grand Haven Dr. Sutherland accepted a call from the First Presbyterian church at Jacksonville, Ill., to succeed Dr. Glover, who had been pastor for thirty-seven years. His services there covered four years, and during that time the church edifice was destroyed by fire, and he lost thereby his library and manuscripts. His congregation then worshiped with the Central church, of which Dr. Harsha was pastor. Dr. Harsha and Dr. Sutherland resigned their pastorates with the view to having the two churches unite, and the latter then accepted a call from the First church of Rockford, Ill. He went from that place after a successful pastorate of five years in response to a call from the Second Presbyterian church of Pittsburg, Pa., and in the latter city became prominent in a movement to consolidate the Second and Third churches under his pastorate. It was the intention of the amalgamated congregation to occupy the Third church building and to sell the property of the Second church, the proceeds of the sale to be used as an endowment for institutional work. About fifty members of the Second church, however, opposed the movement on the ground that they were strong enough to maintain a separate church organization. The consolidation, however, was consummated; but those who were opposed presented a protest to the synod during the absence of Dr. Sutherland, and on learning of this, he resigned, although opposed in this step by the almost unanimous vote of his parishioners. He then supplied the pulpit of the Central Presbyterian church in Buffalo, N. Y., during the absence of its regular pastor in Europe, until called to Burlington, Iowa, as pastor of the First Presbyterian church of this city. After his arrival here the First church building was partly destroyed by fire, and the edifice was rebuilt and redecorated. Other material improvements have been made, and the church has also grown spiritually, while the work has been carried on successfully in various lines of church activity. Dr. Sutherland has twice been a member of the general assembly, and is now a member of the special committee of the general assembly on ministerial sustentation. The degree of Doctor of Divinity was bestowed upon him by Wooster University of Ohio.
Dr. Sutherland has directed his efforts into the lecture field and the realms of literature. He has been a frequent contributor to magazines, and he is a member of the Victoria Institute, the philosophical society of Great Britain. He has also been a successful lecturer upon popular subjects. His writing embraces a wide range, his consideration being given to the great economic and sociological problems as well as those which have direct bearing upon the church and its work. He has now under preparation a work on the Apocalypse, and he has delivered a course of lectures on that book. Dr. Sutherland is identified with the Masonic fraternity as a member of King Solomon Lodge, No. 53, Free and Accepted Masons, which he joined at Woodstock, Ontario, but he has never taken an active part in its work. He was married to Miss Adelia Mathews Atkin, of New York City, and they have three living children: Mrs. Margaret J. Sprole, Florence M., and Frances G. Without invidious distinction Dr. Sutherland may be termed one of the leading divines of the Presbyterian denomination. His latent intellectual powers have been developed and strengthened in his study of the great questions which throughout the ages have had their effect upon human character and destiny. His broad humanitarianism has been manifest in ready sympathy for those who needed the aid and encouragement of their fellow-men.