Mary Daly

Mary Daly has been a longstanding and highly controversial icon in the Boston area. For some she was a fearless crusader. For others she was overbearing and out of line. She died on Sunday at the age of 81.

Her extraordinary story is well known in these parts but here’s a brief backgrounder from the Boston Globe obituary:

Dr. Daly emerged as a major voice in the women’s movement with her first book, “The Church and the Second Sex,’’ published in 1968, and “Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation,’’ which appeared five years later. That accomplishment was viewed, then and now, as all the more significant because she wrote and taught at a Jesuit university.

“She was a great trained philosopher, theologian, and poet, and she used all of those tools to demolish patriarchy – or any idea that domination is natural – in its most defended place, which is religion,’’ said Gloria Steinem…

“ ‘The Church and the Second Sex’ was every bit as important in the Catholic world as Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique,’ ’’ said James Carroll, an author and columnist for the Globe’s opinion pages who formerly was a Catholic priest.

Daly was and always will be a hero for me. I saw her battles with the Catholic Church (and with her employer, Boston College) as a brave and fearless expression of my own struggles with patriarchy. She was a tireless haranguer, and her lectures were like performances of witty vitriol. Even in a presentation format, her mind was exploding in the conceptual space in every direction. She was a 360 thinker, feeler, warrior, poet, primal force.

She played with language constantly, making words work for her. From the Globe obit:

Coining words with an Irish wit that could slip from sly to savage, Dr. Daly dismissed college officials as “bore-ocrats’’ who suffered from “academentia’’ and “predictably reacted with ‘misterical’ behavior’’ – all in a 1996 autobiographical article for The New Yorker magazine. Beyond her choices to capitalize certain words and remold others like clay, she was deeply serious about language and the way it shapes a sense of self.

“Ever since childhood, I have been honing my skills for living the life of a Radical Feminist Pirate and cultivating the Courage to Sin,’’ she wrote in the opening of “Sin Big,’’* her New Yorker piece. “The word ‘sin’ is derived from the Indo-European root ‘es-,’ meaning ‘to be.’ When I discovered this etymology, I intuitively understood that for a woman trapped in patriarchy, which is the religion of the entire planet, ‘to be’ in the fullest sense is ‘to sin.’ ’’

According to one of Mary’s close friends, “It was Mary’s wish that if women or people want to memorialize her in any way, they should stay in their own locality and have a get-together where they read or discuss her work.’’ So like Mary to keep it personal and unpretentious.

RIP Mary Daly. There is no replacement for what and who you have been.

*Note: For subscribers to the New Yorker, you can read “Sin Big” in its entirety here. It is a highly personal and lively view into her life. Her byline for the piece: “The author created her own feminist lexicon and became a gleeful flamethrower in the world of academic theology.”