On this day in 1983: Nun battling Vatican poised to head Michigan dept.

    Vatican | Creative Commons

    A Michigan Senate committee on March 8, 1983, recommended that Sister Agnes Mary Mansour’s appointment to head the Department of Social Services be approved by the full Senate. She was later confirmed as department director.

    Mansour, who was born to Lebanese immigrants in Detroit in 1931, had been appointed by then-Gov.-elect James Blanchard on Dec. 29, 1982.

    However, Detroit Roman Catholic Archbishop Edmund Szoka had called for her resignation, citing her refusal to take a public stance against the department’s funding of Medicaid abortions.

    Mansour, who had served as president of Mercy College in Detroit since 1971, told the Senate committee that she can “tolerate” such funding, although she is personally opposed to abortion. She had stated that she “respects” Szoka’s position.

    Two months after her confirmation as director, Mansour was required by the Vatican to decide whether to continue as department director or as a nun. She chose to give up her vows as a nun.

    Agnes Mary Mansour

    “She never stopped being a Sister of Mercy in her heart and many of us never stopped thinking of her in that way,” said Sister Linda Werthman, president of the Detroit Regional Community of the Sisters of Mercy. “Throughout the years, her commitment to serving those who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education has been unwavering.”

    After serving out her state government appointment, Mansour was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1988.

    She died in 2004.

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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