Margaret Flory celebrated her 90th birthday Thursday.
At one time, Margaret Flory considered becoming an ordained minister. But not for long.
The Wauseon native felt she had too much work to do spreading the gospel to take time out for school.
"By that time I had the best job in the world, and I would have had to stop and study Greek and Hebrew," Miss Flory said this week. "I didn't want to give up what I was doing, but I'm a pastor at heart."
Miss Flory, who celebrated her 90th birthday Thursday, is being honored this weekend by 150 friends, family members, and religious leaders at New York City's famed Riverside Church for her lifetime of devotion to ecumenical, educational, and missionary work.
"She is one of the outstanding leaders of the ecumenical movement of the 20th century because her eyes had the power to see trees when there were only seeds," said Rubem Alves, a Brazilian theologian and poet.
Among the speakers will be Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches; Syngman Rhee, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and Dr. Letty Russell, professor emerita of theology at Yale Divinity School.
A retired national staff member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Miss Flory established a series of programs that sent American youths overseas to live and work and share the Gospel with foreign nationals.
Her vision brought about such programs as Junior Year Abroad, Frontier Internships in Mission, Bi-National Service, World Student Christian Federation, and Asian Women's Institute.
Still sharp-minded and energetic, Miss Flory said from her home in Brevard, N.C., this week that her life changed after visiting Communist China in 1948.
The 1932 graduate of Wauseon High School studied at Ohio University, earning a bachelor's degree in English and a master's in speech and drama.
While at OU, Miss Flory became involved in presenting religious drama.
"I began to share faith I didn't know I had," she said. "Eventually, it led to my whole life being in the church."
She taught at Alabama State College for Women from 1939 to 1940, took summer classes at Union Theological Seminary in New York from 1940 to 1942, and in 1944 was commissioned a missionary to China.
But her Asian missionary work was stalled by World War II, and she finally arrived in China in 1948.
"It opened up the whole world to me," Miss Flory said. "Before that, I had taken a group of New York women to Guatemala for three weeks during Christmas, 1946. But I hadn't been much exposed to the rest of the world except for students who had come from abroad to Ohio University, and there were very few during the war."
On the same Asian trip, she taught drama and religion classes in Japan, Korea, and the Philippines.
"There was a time after the war when they were open to a message. They wanted to be restored," Miss Flory said. "They wanted to work for a peaceful world. Many of my students became Christians. It was an amazing time."
Never married, Miss Flory still has relatives in Columbus, but her connections to Wauseon have faded over the years.
In her 36 years with the Presbyterian national offices, she traveled to more than 100 countries.
"China is my first love," Miss Flory said. "Japan and China are my favorite parts of the world."
She added that she has "a warm feeling" for Brazil, where she spent the summer of 1959 with a group of students. "Brazil has the potential of becoming a remarkable country in the future," she said.
Miss Flory officially "retired" from the Presbyterian Church in 1980, but she has remained extremely active in ecumenical and mission work. She wrote three books between 1990 and 1995 and made trips to Cuba, Switzerland, Hungary, Ivory Coast, and Japan and taught a course on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt last year at Brevard (N.C.) Community College.
"I wanted to prove to myself that I can still teach," she said. "Each lecture was two hours, with a break in between. And I really enjoyed the teaching."
She donated her papers to Yale Divinity School, which has catalogued and put online a summary of the 55 boxes full of documents.
Her latest project has been to raise $100,000 for a scholarship fund for the World Student Christian Federation.
"It's been a joy to see that my work is continuing and that people are benefiting from it," Miss Flory said.
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