Sister Mary Fulbright, SSMN, former school superintendent and Cassata co-founder, dies

North Texas Catholic
(Jun 3, 2024) Local

Courtesy Photo

FORT WORTH — Sister Mary Venard Fulbright, SSMN, an educator, diocesan school superintendent, and social worker, died on May 23, 2024, at age 94.  

A vigil will be held on Sunday, June 9 at 2 p.m. at Thompson’s Harveson & Cole Funeral Home, 4350 River Oaks Boulevard in Fort Worth.

Father John Shanahan, TOR, will celebrate a Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. on Monday, June 10 at Holy Family Church, 6150 Pershing Ave. Her body will be interred at 2:30 p.m. at Rosemound Cemetery in Waco.

Mary Louise Fulbright was born in Waco on Jan. 15, 1930, to Anne Lola (Beaty) and Henry Grady Fulbright.

After graduating from high school, Sr. Mary entered the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur on September 21, 1947.

In 1948, she took the name Sister Mary Venard, after the French missionary Saint Jean-Theophane Venard, who was sent to Vietnam in 1852 and was martyred for his faith in 1861.

She professed her perpetual vows in 1956.

She taught in Catholic schools in Wichita Falls, Fort Worth, Arlington, Beaumont, and Houston as well as California. She served as principal at three schools, including Resurrection Catholic School in Houston.

The experienced educator, who “wasn’t deterred by obstacles,” according to Sister Dorothy Powers, SSMN, was appointed superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Fort Worth in 1973.

In 1974, Sr. Mary and Sister Mary Bonaventure, SHSp, decided to establish a school for students of high-school age and older who had not yet completed their secondary education. They envisioned a school that welcomed anyone willing to learn, regardless of background or financial circumstances.

The school would offer small class sizes and individualized instruction to help students overcome personal and social circumstances that can be barriers to learning.

The school officially opened in February 1975 and was named for Bishop John Cassata, the first bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

After stepping down as superintendent in 1982, Sr. Mary joined the University of Texas at Arlington where she ultimately became the director of the UTA School of Social Work Community Services Development Center. Through her work at UTA, Sr. Mary provided assistance to Head Start early education and AmeriCorps community service programs.

Sister Mary retired from UTA in 1997.

Sr. Dorothy said Sr. Mary was “motivated by a desire to help whomever needed help. She had a dogged desire to alleviate injustice and inequality,” with a particular compassion for the marginalized.

The educator was a charismatic leader, according to Sr. Dorothy, with an extroverted nature and a great sense of humor. “She liked people, listened to people, and wanted to be with people,” Sr. Dorothy recalled.

She lent support to several community organizations, serving on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity of Fort Worth, Tarrant Area Community of Churches, and United Way of Tarrant County, among others.

She held a bachelor of arts degree in sociology from University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio and completed teacher training at Our Lady of Victory College. In 1970, she earned a master’s degree in social work from University of Texas at Arlington.

Sr. Mary celebrated her 75th jubilee anniversary as a Sister of Saint Mary of Namur on August 13, 2022.

Flowers may be sent to Our Lady of Victory Convent at 909 W. Shaw St. in Fort Worth or to Thompson’s Harveson & Cole.

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