A Person of Excellence

Sister Sally Furay, RSCJ, 1926-2015

Sister Sally Furay was a professor, university provost, academic dean, lawyer, theater education visionary and active nonprofit board member. At the same time, she devoted her life to her Catholic faith as a devout member of the Society of the Sacred Heart.

“She was a sophisticated woman with a profound spiritual faith,” said The Old Globe Theatre historian Darlene Davies.

Sister Furay arrived in San Diego in 1954 to teach literature and drama at the San Diego College for Women, and it wasn’t long before she became a leading figure on the campus that would become the University of San Diego.

“Her signature is indelibly imprinted on this university, and her legacy is seen and felt everywhere,” USD President Mary Lyons said.

Sister Furay died on Jan. 10, 2015 at Sharp Memorial Hospital of complications from a stroke. She was 88.

Sister Furay was USD’s provost and vice president for 25 years, retiring in 1996. She was instrumental in the 1972 merger of the College for Women and the San Diego University College for Men and School of Law to establish USD.

She saw the unification of the colleges as an obvious move for a better university, said Society of the Sacred Heart provincial Sister Barbara Dawson.

“She was really a person of excellence and I think she wanted to … have the best possible educational opportunity that she could create,” Dawson said.

Sister Furay’s passions were diverse, and with them she “epitomized dedication and commitment,” Lyons said. An interest in college administration inspired Sister Furay to enroll in law school at age 42, while she was academic dean at the College for Women. A champion of equal rights, she helped to implement courses on gender-based discrimination into USD School of Law curriculum. She taught the course “Sexual Harassment and the Law” from 1974 to 1992. In 1994, she established the university’s Trans-Border Institute, which focuses on bringing greater attention to U.S.-Mexico border issues.

Sister Furay was an avid supporter of The Old Globe Theatre, serving as president of its board of directors and working closely with founding Director Craig Noel and former Artistic Director Jack O’Brien. “This woman made my life possible as an artistic director,” he said.

Soon after O’Brien joined The Old Globe from Broadway in 1981, he shared with Noel and Sister Furay his frustration over a dearth of classically trained actors. Noel had long wanted to establish a master of fine arts program with a university.

“I said it would be great if we could … build our own. Sally took the ball and ran with it,” O’Brien said.

In 1987, Noel and Sister Furay established The Old Globe/USD Graduate Acting Program, now one of the most prestigious and competitive in the country. Sister Furay worked with Noel to create an endowment for the Old Globe.

“Because of her stature as a provost, attorney, religious leader, she took all that and used it to benefit the community,” said Bob Kelly, retired CEO of The San Diego Foundation, another local institution that benefited from Sister Furay’s leadership. “She was instrumental in making The San Diego Foundation what it is today,” Kelly said. In particular, Sister Furay worked closely with Audrey Geisel to set up the Dr. Seuss Fund at the foundation, and the fund has granted millions to San Diego.

Sally Marguerite Furay was born on June 12, 1926, in Omaha, Neb. She joined the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1944, making her first vows in 1947 and her final profession in 1952 in Rome. She earned her bachelor’s in English at Duchesne College in Omaha in 1949. She continued her education with a master’s in English from San Francisco College for Women, now a part of the University of San Francisco, and a doctorate in English and American literature from Stanford University in 1955.

Sister Furay’s involvement in community and educational organizations was extensive. She served as board chair of the National Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities; vice president of the San Diego County Bar Association; chair of Sen. Barbara Boxer’s Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee for the Southern District of California; and was the first female president of the Western College Association. She also served on higher education accrediting commissions for 12 years; the California Student Aid Commission; and the Legal Services Review Panel for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Contributions can be made to the Sister Sally M. Furay Endowed Scholarship Fund. To learn more, click here.

Reprinted with permission of U-T San Diego © 2014 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC.