Mary Martina Schaefer
March 25, 1936 – March 27, 2013
Dr. Mary Schaefer died peacefully at home in Halifax, Nova Scotia on March 27, 2013, Wednesday of Holy Week in the company of good friends just as she wished. This was just two days after celebrating her seventy-seventh birthday with her customary good humor and joyful spirit. Born March 25, 1936 in Schenectady, New York, Mary was the eldest daughter of Paul Schaefer and Carolyn Keseberg. Attending Mass daily and singing the Mass each morning while attending St. Joseph’s Academy had a formative influence on her later life.
Mary began her post-secondary education at the University of Toronto (St. Michael's College), with an Honors Degree and Gold Medal in Art and Archaeology. She was recipient of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to study Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. For some years she taught in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Toronto and Scarborough College.
During that time with a group of women Mary made the case before the bishops of Canada for ordination of women to the diaconate. She was not surprised by their response. Resigning her teaching post, she worked for two years in Northern Alberta in adult faith formation in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, Peace River country, then at the Catholic Information Centre, Edmonton. It was during this period in her life that she began the study of liturgy in the summer program at St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota.
In 1975 Mary wrote scripture commentaries for Publications Service, Ottawa (Sunday Mass Book, 1976), followed by a full year of teaching at U of T and the University of Guelph prior to graduate school at the University of Notre Dame (1978-1983).
Immediately following her Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies at Notre Dame, Mary taught Christian Worship, spirituality, systematic theology, and art and architecture at Atlantic School of Theology, Halifax (1983-2001). She wrote especially in areas of Eucharist, ordination, ecclesiology, and trinitarian theology, and at her death awaited publication of her work of twenty years, Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome (Oxford University Press). She was a knowledgeable student of Europe’s works of art and in Roman libraries. Romania and its monasteries were especially beloved.
Mary became a Canadian citizen on June 24, 1996. From 1996-2003, she was the Canadian member of the Advisory/Consultant Committee of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. She served on the Societas Liturgica council, an international ecumenical Liturgical Society, and was a member of the North American Academy for Liturgy, the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Canadian Theological Society, and the Society for Patristic Studies, giving papers at their annual conferences. From 1995-1996, Mary was president of the Canadian Theological Society.
She spent herself in trying to serve the Church through her professional and volunteer activities. In her years following retirement Mary continued to share her talents in liturgy, education, outreach, parish council, and Refugee Committee II at St. Patrick’s Parish, Halifax. She was consulted and corresponded widely on matters of Liturgy and Theology. She received the Elizabeth Seton Award (Sisters of Charity) and the Archdiocesan Medal of Merit. She was chair of the Places of Worship Committee for the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, and in that capacity inaugurated symposia on church restoration. She was honored by the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia with an award in 2012.
Mary was an extraordinarily active person and had a passion for figure skating. She traveled widely and enjoyed many visits back to 'the Castle' in Keene, NY until it was sold. Her great and lifelong relaxations were solo mountain climbing, canoeing and camping, especially in the Adirondacks. She climbed Gros Morne 23 days after a mastectomy and also the highest mountain in South India. She was turned back in an attempt to complete an ascent of the Grossglockner, Austria’s highest mountain, by a blizzard.