Mary Jule Greeley Durkin raised seven kids while working toward her master’s degree and doctorate of ministry at the University of Chicago.
She started inthe mid-1960s, when the aspirations of many middle-class women were circumscribed by society and the demands of marriage and motherhood.
In 1956, two months after graduating from Mundelein College, she married Jack Durkin. By the time she was 31, they had seven children.
When she drove to Hyde Park for her studies, some busybodies thought “she wasn’t a good mother, she was supposed to stay home and take care of her kids,” said her oldest child, Laura Durkin. “I do remember times when my mom wasn’t treated nicely by people because of her desire to do something beyond being a mother — people in the parish, or the neighborhood.”
Mrs. Durkin was the sister of somebody else who shook up the status quo — Rev. Andrew Greeley, a Chicago priest who wasn’t afraid to critique the Catholic church. A foe of Cardinal John Cody and his authoritarian style, Greeley wrote popular and sometimes racy books, including “The Cardinal Sins.”
Mrs. Durkin forged her own reputation as an author, scholar, lecturer and activist with CALM, the Chicago Area Lay Movement. Her daughter said she wrote 10 books and co-authored more with her brother, including “How to Save the Catholic Church.”
Mrs. Durkin, who had Alzheimer’s disease for many years, died Wednesday at 83 at Glen Saint Andrew living community in Niles.
“It was amazing what she was able to accomplish before she got sick,” her daughter said.
She taught religious studies at DePaul University and the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University, which trains people for ministry. She also was an instructor at the University of Dayton.
She was the first Catholic woman in the doctoral degree program at the University of Chicago Divinity School, according to Martin E. Marty, a longtime U. of C. professor of religious history and author of more than 50 books.
Young Mary Jule grew up near Division and Austin, a granddaughter of immigrants from County Mayo, Ireland. She went to St. Angela grade school and Siena High School. Her father, Andrew Thomas Greeley, was a trust administrator who lost everything in the Great Depression, Laura Durkin said. He died in his sleep when she was 13. Her mother Grace — who told her daughter she couldn’t get married until she earned her college degree — died when Mary Jule was 28.
Mrs. Durkin’s husband worked for United Airlines, a job with travel perks that made for terrific family vacations, their daughter said.
One Christmas, “My mom and dad kept saying, ‘Why don’t you look in your stockings?’ ’’ their daughter recalled. “In the stockings, everyone had a ticket for a trip to California. We went to Disneyland and San Juan Capistrano.”
“One summer afternoon dad came home and said, ‘I’ve got nine tickets to Portugal and we’re leaving tomorrow,’ ” Laura Durkin said.
Like many people of Irish heritage who grew up hearing stories of An Gorta Mor — Ireland’s Great Hunger of the 1840s — Mrs. Durkin was active with charities that fight famine. She traveled to Bangladesh with Concern Worldwide to organize a textile-weaving cooperative to help women support their families.
“She was trying to incarnate a dream of what the world could be, of who God’s people could be,” said Father John Cusick of Old St. Pat’s church.
In addition to helping others, she taught her children to embrace joy and accept grief. “Every Dec. 6, St. Nick would leave gifts for us outside the door. Every Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day, we’d wake up and the kitchen would be decorated and there’d be treats for everyone,” her daughter said. “She and my dad celebrated life at every opportunity.”
She comforted her daughter after she had several miscarriages. “She said to me, ‘Laura, just because someone has had what you consider a greater tragedy, that does not diminish your grief.’ ”
Mrs. Durkin will be buried with a rhinestone pin that Jack Durkin had made. It spells out her nickname “Juice.”
Her husband, her brother and sister Grace Anne died before her. She is also survived by daughters Julie Montague, Eileen Durkin, Anne Durkin and Elizabeth Durkin; sons Sean and Daniel, and 18 grandchildren. Visitation is from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday evening at Gibbons Funeral Home, 5917 W. Irving Park Rd., and Tuesday at 4:45 p.m. until a 6 p.m. funeral Mass at Old St. Pat’s Church at Adams and Des Plaines. Burial is Wednesday at Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Hillside.