Mary Byles

Birth: November 29, 1913
Profession: February 11, 1944
Death: November 9, 2005


Sister Mary Byles, longtime professor of humanities and theology at Maryville University, died Wednesday, November 9, 2005, at Kenwood Convent of the Sacred Heart, a retirement center for the Society of the Sacred Heart in Albany, N.Y. She was 91.

In addition to her work at Maryville, Sister Byles was well-known to religious leaders of the St. Louis area for her strong efforts to further ecumenical and interfaith relations.

She had been a Religious of the Sacred Heart for nearly 70 years.

Sister Byles, born in New York City, graduated from Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in 1934 with a major in history. She entered the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1936 and professed her final vows in 1944. She earned a master’s degree in medieval history at Fordham University in 1947 and a doctoral degree, also in medieval history, from that school in 1951.

As a young religious, Sister Byles taught in secondary schools operated by the Society in Albany and Noroton, Conn. Then, in 1945, she was appointed to the faculty at Manhattanville, where she taught history and religion until 1953, also serving as dean of women, foreign student advisor and moderator of student activities.

In 1953, Sister Byles moved to Puerto Rico to serve as academic dean at College of the Sacred Heart in Santurce. Her duties included fundraising and staff development as the school grew from 90 to 800 students.

In 1969 she took a sabbatical year to study theology at Princeton University, followed by a study trip to ten South American countries.

From 1970 to 1972, she served as education supervisor for the St. Louis Province of the Society.  In 1972, she was appointed professor of humanities at Maryville University (then Maryville College). later becoming professor of religious studies, and remaining at Maryville for 18 years.

While at Maryville, she participated in interfaith dialogues, helped to plan a Christian-Jewish workshop in the city, and, as coordinator of a spring lecture series for eleven years, invited leaders of many religious faiths to lecture at the school.

Sister Byles loved teaching. In an interview in 1988, she said she enjoyed introducing students to “the finer things,” such as art, music, poetry and philosophy, as well as encouraging them to address the religious questions in their lives. All of her research – at that point mainly in ecumenism, liberation theology and biblical theology – was done “in order to teach, and teach, and gladly, madly teach,” she said.

After her retirement in 1988, she continued to teach part-time at Maryville until 1990, and to lead religious education classes for adults in area parishes until 1997, when she moved to Kenwood.

Sister Byles is survived by two sisters, Louisa Byles Kirchner of Silver Spring, Md., and Winifred Byles Campbell of Chester, Vt.  A funeral Mass was to be celebrated at 9 a.m. Saturday, November 12 at Kenwood. A memorial Mass will be held at 5 p.m. December 7 in Huttig Chapel at Maryville, followed by a reception.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Society of the Sacred Heart, U.S. Province, 4100 Forest Park Avenue, Suite A, St. Louis, MO, 63108.