[created 6 Sept. '08, edited 10 Sept. '08]
I've received news that Sister Mary passed away peacefully yesterday morning.
Sister Mary was a pioneer in interfaith dialogue - she was executive director of the Multi Faith Resources Unit (later renamed Multi-Faith Centre) in Birmingham, which was particularly active in the 1980s. The centre was based for a while in the lovely location of Harborne Hall, which belongs to the Sisters of the Retreat of the Sacred Heart. (Sister Mary contributed a preface to a history of the Hall).
The MFC worked in the areas of education, training and community development.
Sister Mary formed a multi-faith team from around the Birmingham area, being careful to choose people who were well rooted in the respective traditions. So visitors to the centre or indeed anyone who encountered members of the team could gain an authentic taste and enter into rich dialogue. I have copies of a few group photos from the MFC and I get the feeling that Sister Mary would be happy to be remembered for her work in this context - the interfaith family (in the above photo she is the tallest person and standing at the back). This was, of course, in addition to her relatives and other families within the Catholic Church, but certainly she seemed very actualised by the interfaith 'movement'.
She was an excellent trainer, with a varied background, including time spent running a convent in Pakistan. My mother worked with Sister Mary as a Buddhist member of the team for about 10 years and very much appreciated her vision and skill, learning a lot about other faiths and also more general skills in communication, organisation and so on. She could apply these skills when meeting a wide range of people - from the team itself through all those she met in various dialogues, perhaps the most adventurous of which was in New York State, including a session at the U.N. building (apparently a tough but appreciative group of participants with lots of questions!)
Sister Mary expressed her heartfelt gratitude for all the contributions made by my mother by kindly gave an address at my mother's cremation service paying warm tribute.
I myself didn't have that much contact with Sister Mary (I was at secondary school and then University), but from my mother's descriptions and brief meetings one could quickly notice her intelligence and strength of character; coupled with her height she made for quite a powerful presence (and I think she appreciated especially if people were likewise)! In sum, she made an important contribution to interfaith, which I occasionally hear about, but I think it should be more widely known.
I understand Sister Mary's funeral will take place at Selly Park Convent at 12.15 p.m. on Wednesday 10th September.