Remembering Sister Sally Furay, RSCJ

Gianna Caravetta

Furay Front

Earlier this month, University of San Diego President Mary E. Lyons sent out a campuswide email informing the university that Sister Sally Furay, RSCJ had passed away.

Furay, 88, worked at USD for over 40 years. She served as academic vice president and provost, an English and law professor, and academic dean and department chair of the College of Arts and Sciences, to name a few of her titles. Furay fully committed her life to her Catholic faith as a sister of the Society of the Sacred Heart.

In her email to the USD community, Lyons said that the legacy Furay left to us is one of high esteem.
“This extraordinary woman with a Ph.D. from Stanford University and a J.D. from our own School of Law broke new ground literally and figuratively to build USD,” Lyons said. “Among her greatest gifts to us are the many professors she hired during her tenure as Provost, men and women whom she selected because they shared her passion for excellence and the mission of this Catholic university.”

Furay’s service to the USD community especially extended throughout the faculty during her term as provost.
Debbie Gough is the assistant vice president for academic administration. Furay hired Gough in 1975 during her time as provost as a part-time executive assistant under a job share.

Gough has been at USD for almost 40 years. She said that Furay helped her to become who she is today.
“She told me that she decided to do a job share for the position because she was teaching about sex discrimination in USD’s Law School, and she was aware how hard it was for young mothers to re-enter the job market,” Gough said. “Sister became my mentor. She encouraged me to get my master’s and take on the job I have currently, and here I am almost 40 years later. I honestly can’t imagine how different my life would have been if I had not found that first job with Sister Furay.”

Monsignor Daniel Dillabough is the vice president of mission and ministry at USD. Dillabough presided over Furay’s funeral mass and gave a homily about her life dedicated to justice.

Dillabough said that to talk about Furay’s life was to talk about justice in action.

“For Sally it was not enough just to talk about justice,” Dillabough said. “While carrying a full time position she became a law school student. She modeled what she believed and never stopped doing justice, in particular for the emerging place of women, the marginalized in the marketplace, the halls of academia and the church and all of society.”

Lyons expressed that Furay’s work was a generous gift to USD, one that should inspire everyone in the USD community for the new semester.

“As you begin this semester, think about the many gifts we continue to receive because of Sr. Furay’s long service,” Lyons said. “May our work and all that we can achieve for others be a tribute to her and an expression of gratitude for her extraordinary life.”

When she first came to San Diego in 1954, Furay was teaching literature and drama at the San Diego College for Women. She was one of the founders of the College for Women in 1949. In 1972, she helped merge the San Diego College for Women, the College for Men, and the School of Law to become what is now USD.

Dillabough also said that Furay is responsible for USD’s legacy as a nationally ranked Catholic university.

“Education was her door to the heart of people,” Dillabough said. “There can be no debate about the fact that she and Dr. Hughes took the helm of this university and stood on the shoulders of Bishop Buddy and Mother Hill to forge a merger and build, what is now recognized as one of our outstanding institutions of higher education in the United States.”

Furay was a fervent activist for equal rights, especially for women. In her time at USD, she transformed the law school curriculum to include courses in sex-based discrimination.

In his homily, Dillabough said that Furay’s passion for justice and sex equality was seen especially in her words and her voice.

“She broke the glass ceiling, actually she smashed it,” Dillabough said. “Her voice was always heard as she spoke and wrote with words and experience that demanded respect. Her legacy invites us all to be witnesses to justice. […] Sr. Sally is, without doubt, a pioneer, a builder of community, who led with her heart. ”
Furay was interviewed by The Vista in 1992. Furay discussed why her position as a woman in a leadership position forced her to make herself visible.

“I do my homework,” Furay said. “I teach Sex Discrimination and the Law. I’m a very strong advocate for women’s rights. It’s much less true now [in 1992], but in the early ‘70s, sometimes I’d be the only woman on a committee – and they don’t really pay attention to a woman unless you’re better prepared than they are, which I usually was. Again, I am an educator. If you’re going to empower people, then you expect them to rise to their full potential.”

Furay was also known for her dedication to keeping her fellow faculty peers responsible.

Peggy Agerton is the Academic Communications Manager in the Provost’s office. In her special edition Faculty Newsnotes about Furay’s legacy, Agerton notes that Furay would call members of her faculty sometimes only five minutes before they were off the clock.

“Sister Furay was legendary for making phone calls late on a Friday afternoon, 4:55 p.m. to be exact,” Agerton said. “Deans and directors dreaded the potential ‘Friday 4:55 p.m. phone call’ from Sister Furay. ‘Do I leave a little early or do I stay’ debate would circle in their heads on Friday afternoons. While working on projects and other tasks, additional information may be needed, and Sister Furay didn’t hesitate to make a phone call. As she would say, ‘We are paid to be here until 5 p.m., so why wouldn’t my calls be answered?’”

In 1994, Furay founded USD’s Trans-Border Institute (TBI) to encourage more awareness, understanding and mutual respect of the U.S. and Mexican border. To honor Furay’s work in establishing the institute, TBI created the Sister Sally Furay Lecture series. TBI brings prominent scholars in their respective fields to USD to discuss the complexities of border relations annually.

In addition to her committed work at USD, Furay’s work extended into the San Diego community.

Sister Virginia Rodee, RSCJ is the Assistant Vice President for Mission and Ministry at USD and a fellow sister of the Society of the Sacred Heart. Rodee said that Furay was deeply committed to serving the community.

“Sister Furay’s academic service, while significant, is not the full extent of her impact,” Rodee said. “She also shared her time generously in a wide array of activities for the benefit of her community. For example, she helped to implement the University of San Diego-Old Globe master of fine arts theatre program, and she assisted in the creation of the Neighborhood National Bank, which provides banking services to San Diego’s underserved and economically challenged communities.”

In his homily, Dillabough also said that the USD community must remember and model Furay’s lifelong ministry.
“May her legacy be a living reminder that our world needs strong witnesses for justice, for the search for truth and for wisdom and a fidelity to remain in loving communion of one mind and one heart with Jesus,” Dillabough said.

Furay’s legacy continues to live on throughout USD’s campus by her dedication to excellence and her tireless work serving others.