Mary Dool

Mary Dool blazed her own trail in social work

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  • September 7, 2017

Mary Isabel Dool was never going to concede that only her brothers could have a vocation.

Her deceased brothers Fr. William Sherlock and Fr. Philip Sherlock, along with her surviving brother, Bishop Emeritus John Sherlock of London, Ont., all had the comfort of a defined and publicly recognized vocation to the priesthood. Mrs. Dool made her own way as a pioneer in the professionalization of Catholic social work.

At the age of 90, Mrs. Dool died peacefully at London’s Henley Place long-term care home Aug. 24. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at the Windermere on the Mount Chapel Aug. 31.

Born in Regina, Sask., Mrs. Dool grew up in Brantford, Ont. She earned her BA from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto in 1949 and immediately joined one of the most interesting projects in Canadian Catholic history.

Under Oblate Fr. Frank Swithun Barrington Bowers, she studied for a Master of Social Work at St. Patrick’s College in Ottawa, graduating in 1951. Until Bowers came back from Columbia University with an advanced degree in social work in 1949, Catholic social agencies had been largely been run on goodwill, volunteers and the labour of religious sisters.

St. Patrick’s School of Social Welfare was set up to infuse a little more professionalism in the running of Catholic children’s aid societies, family service agencies, immigrant resettlement organizations and other social services attached to the Church.

With her MSW degree in hand, Mrs. Dool joined the vanguard of Catholic social work professionals, working many years at Family and Children’s Services Niagara.

Mrs. Dool always thought of her vocation to social work in terms of her Catholic faith, her son John Dool told The Catholic Register.

“She thought about everything in terms of faith,” said Dool, who today heads up the theology department at London’s St. Peter’s Seminary.

“Mary was certainly a professional and a very wise woman — who was a woman of faith, who demonstrated that faith through helping others,” said former Bethlehem House executive director Julie Dennis.

Dennis was hired to run Bethlehem House, a St. Catharines shelter for abused and vulnerable women and their children, by a committee headed by Mrs. Dool.

“I was inspired by her,” said Dennis. “We would have talks about the social needs of people in our community, how we need to pull together to see what we can do…. I’m a social worker too and we just really connected.”

That ethic of care and concern permeated Mrs. Dool’s home life, according to her son.

“One thing is, she would talk to us all the time about how there were a lot of people who were worse off than we were,” Dool recalled. “There was always a sense that we should have some kind of sense of service to the broader community, because there were just a lot of people who didn’t have the advantages of a stable family, food on the table every night. These were not to be taken for granted.”

In her career at Family and Children’s Services Niagara she filled roles as a social worker, supervisor and eventually director of human resources. She was also a constant and reliable volunteer at St. Alfred’s Parish in St. Catharines, Ont., and served on various advisory boards, including the St. Vincent DePaul Society, the YWCA, Birthright and Bethlehem Housing and Support Services.

Mrs. Dool was predeceased by her husband William. Together they had four children and seven grandchildren.

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