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December 19, 2004

Ex-welfare director Agnes Mansour dies at 73

She had a doctorate in biochemistry

      FARMINGTON HILLS (AP) - Agnes Mary Mansour, who gave up her religious vows rather than resign as Michigan's welfare director in a showdown with the Vatican over abortion, died Friday. She was 73.
      Mansour died at McAuley Center, a Farmington Hills assisted living facility operated by the Sisters of Mercy religious order. Mansour was a member of the order for 30 years and an associate for the 20-plus years following dispensation from her vows.
      The daughter of Lebanese immigrants had a multifaceted career in education, government and social service in addition to religious life. Mansour earned a doctorate in biochemistry from Georgetown University and coached the basketball team at her alma mater, Mercy College.
      "Agnes Mary was a woman of uncommon compassion and courage," said Sister Linda Werthman, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Regional Community of Detroit. "She never stopped being a Sister of Mercy in her heart and many of us never stopped thinking of her in that way. Throughout the years, her commitment to serving those who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education has been unwavering."
      After serving for 12 years as president of Mercy College, which later merged with the University of Detroit, then-Gov. James Blanchard named Mansour director of the Michigan Department of Social Services in 1983.
      Controversy arose shortly afterward over her role as a nun and as head of an agency that oversaw Medicaid funding for abortions for low-income women. A representative of Pope John Paul II gave Mansour an ultimatum to either resign as DSS director or be dismissed from the Sisters of Mercy.
      Mansour said that while she personally disapproved of abortion, as long as it was legal it would be unfair to limit the procedure only to women able to afford it. Saying she wanted to avoid causing further conflict within the Catholic Church, she asked to be released from her vows.
      Mansour remained with the DSS, now called the Family Independence Agency, until 1987. In 1988, she founded the Poverty and Social Reform Institute "to focus creative and collaborative action on the health, education, social and economic needs of children and families living in poverty," the Sisters of Mercy said in a statement.

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