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Legendary mission innovator Margaret Flory dies at 95

Ohioan founded Junior Year Abroad, Frontiers in Mission programs

October 2, 2009

Margaret Flory

Margaret Flory

Louisville

Margaret Flory, a visionary Presbyterian leader who created a number of seminal programs that connected Christians around the world with each other, died Oct. 1 in Asheville, N.C. She was 95.

During her 36 years on the national staff of the former United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Flory created such programs as Junior Year Abroad for college students; Frontier Interns, which sent Presbyterian mission workers to unreached corners of the globe; a similar ecumenical program, Frontiers in Mission, which still operates out of Geneva, Switzerland; the Overseas Scholarship Program, which brought overseas teachers and pastors to the U.S. for study; and Bi-National Servants, a program for people who have lived in two cultures and want to share that experience in a third culture.

“Margaret Flory is one of the most outstanding leaders of the ecumenical movement of the 20th Century,” Rubem Alves, Brazilian theologian and poet, wrote on the occasion of her 90th birthday in 2004, “because her eyes had the power to see trees when they were only seeds.”

More than 130 alumni/ae of the Junior Year Abroad program — which Flory founded in 1953 at a time when very few U.S. colleges offered overseas study — gathered at the Stony Point Conference Center in 2003 for a reunion and to celebrate Flory’s ground-breaking work. She Administered the program until it concluded in 1968, having sent more than 1,000 Presbyterian students overseas for study.

In 1955, 1959 and 1963 she chaired the planning for the Student Volunteer Movement Quadrennial Conferences at Ohio University in Athens, OH. In 1955 alone, 97 countries were represented.

The 1959 conference — which included a young Martin Luther King, Jr. among its participants — organized its program around nine frontiers.  Flory took that idea and created the Frontier Interns in Mission program in 1961. It placed American college or seminary graduates overseas on frontiers — the same nine used in Athens — where the church was “absent, irrelevant or inadequate.”

Convinced that “the American church has much to learn from the rest of the world,” Flory then created an Overseas Scholarship Program that brought pastors and teachers to study in this country.

In 1970, she established the Bi-National Servants program as a way for people who have experienced two cultures to continue to transcend borders through annual meetings in various parts of the world and through regular correspondence.

At Flory’s 90th birthday fete, former PC(USA) moderator Synman Rhee told Flory: “The seeds of the faith you have planted all these years are bringing wonderful fruition everywhere, as church leaders, educators, peacemakers and justice makers.”

Added then-General Assembly Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick, “I cannot think of anyone who made a greater contribution to shaping a generation of leaders in the church ecumenical than (Flory), and I am grateful to God for that.”

Following her retirement in 1980, Flory stayed busy, writing three books and continuing to travel extensively to mission fields she was so instrumental in developing, including Europe, Africa,  Japan and Cuba.

In the late 1990s, the John Knox Center in Geneva named a new building in her honor — the Margaret Flory Conference Center.

It was this direct, relational approach to mission that set the Ohio native apart and set the stage for contemporary mission efforts, such as the current “Mission Challenge ‘09” program of the PC(USA).

As Margaret Flory often said, “People communicate. Paper does not.” 

  1. I was a Jr. Year Abroad Student in India at Isabella Thorburn College in 1956 . Is there a way I can make contact with the other students who participated ? Reading about Mary brought back such fond memories. What a gret visionary . We were so lucky.

    by Lucille Ott (Howard)

    November 12, 2010

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