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Mary Elizabeth Avery Work

September 27, 1942 – July 18, 2003


Mary’s Global-Local Life of

Kindness and Generosity


Mary Elizabeth Avery Work was born on September 27, 1942, in Phoenix, Arizona, to Ben and Donda Avery. Her father was Arizona Republic reporter, columnist, news editor, city editor, and political writer for thirty-eight years, and an environmentalist.


Her ancestry includes one of the first Mormons, a voyager on the Mayflower, and a French knight. When Mary was eight years old, she “fell into the stars” and experienced that she “did not exist”. She had two operations on her neck muscles. She struggled to create harmony in a family in which her older sister, suffering from multiple sclerosis, created some confusion for the family. She attended the first integrated high school in Phoenix.


She went on to be a successful leader and top student at Arizona State University in Tempe where she graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.A. in History. Her honor’s thesis was on the minority peoples of China.  While there, she participated in the long version of the Ecumenical Institute’s course, the Theological Revolution of the 20th Century (RS-1). She was also an award-winning sharpshooter who could hit a bullseye in a mist with calm intuition.


One day as she walked across campus, she looked up at the buildings and saw only their structure, the girders. The surfaces of the buildings were gone. She felt that all her status and achievements were unimportant, and she left university and joined the Peace Corps for two years in East Malaysia where she was the English teacher in a Chinese village.


She had been trained to speak Malay but everyone in the village spoke only Chinese. She experienced pain and confusion about being there until one day she was walking through the jungle, and she heard a voice saying, “Just love them.” She realized that she had been trying to understand people, and now she realized that was not important – but only to love them as they were. She said this was a turning point in her life.  She also spoke about how touched she was watching a village lady sweep her little earthen front yard every morning acting out her care for her life and world.


After the Peace Corps, Mary attended graduate school in Chinese studies at the University of Chicago.  Later she transferred to the Chicago Theological Seminary because of her concern about the role of the church in the world. There she met her future husband Moorman Robertson “Rob” Work, Jr. They both moved to the Westside campus of the Ecumenical Institute (EI) where they were university interns. Joseph Wesley Mathews, the Institute’s Dean once called Mary “the natural religious.” Mary and Rob were married in September 1968 by Joseph and Rob’s dad, Robbie, in the Institute’s Great Hall. At the heart of the EI was a third order (family order), the Order Ecumenical that was “experimental, ecumenical, global, and secular-religious”.


On Chicago’s westside, Mary was a caseworker in the African American ghetto. When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, there were riots during which outside gangs set fire to the Westside, including the Institute’s buildings. The local gangs, however, went along behind them putting out the fires. Mary took some of the children down to the “El” train with gunshots sounding around them and went west to the suburbs for safety. The Institute, including Mary and Rob, decided to stay in the ghetto following the riots and fires. The Institute’s first human development project, Fifth City, was developed there. Mary also taught courses in religious and cultural studies. In July 1969, Mary and Rob were part of a group of colleagues who traveled around the world in just over a month – a Global Odyssey – visiting some of the major cultures of the planet and reflecting on their encounters each evening and then at the end of the journey in Iceland.


Mary and Rob were then asked to go to Malaysia. They immediately said yes and left seminary for Kuala Lumpur/Petaling Jaya. Mary taught at an international school and cared for the religious house including several youths. Mary and Rob tried to have a child but without success.


Mary and Rob were next assigned to South Korea after a brief interlude in Japan. The first night in Seoul, they received mild poisoning from yon ton gas that had leaked from the traditional ondol heating system under the floor. In Korea, Mary taught at the International School of the Sacred Heart. She and her colleagues developed a global ethics curriculum.  Mary also taught courses offered by the Institute in theological and cultural studies and helped care for the Religious House.


After not being able to get pregnant, Mary and Rob decided to adopt a child. A precious two-year-old boy named Kim Tae Il – later named Benjamin Kang Work – joined their family, and six months later Mary gave birth to his delightful brother Christopher Edward Work! Mary developed cancer on her eyelid and the family returned to the states where Mary had a successful operation rebuilding her eyelid, presenting her two sons to the larger family, and getting Benjamin’s naturalization as an American citizen.


After six years in South Korea, the Works were reassigned back to the USA traveling from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, to Denver and finally becoming the priors in the Dallas Religious House. Mary worked for the American Arbitration Society. From Dallas, the family was assigned to the Indiahoma Human Development Project in Oklahoma where they helped improve the community including the holding of a Festival of Hometowns. Mary wrote a history of the town and worked as a Vista volunteer in the community.


In 1980, Mary and family were assigned to Jamaica to establish the Institute of Cultural Affairs and to work in the Woburn Lawn Human Development Project in the Blue Mountains. Mary helped the village cooperative develop a financial system for their loans and grants, wrote up the village history, and spent many days walking to mountain villages with several young Jamaicans conducting village meetings and helping people start economic and social projects. Mary felt that it was important that Benjamin and Christopher grow up knowing firsthand about poverty.


In 1984, Mary and Rob were reassigned to Venezuela where they incorporated the Institute of Cultural Affairs and worked in the Cano Negro Human Development Project in the cacao growing region of Barlovento east of Caracas. Among other things, Mary enjoyed working on a corporate culture research project with several Venezuelan corporations as well as teaching occasionally at the Caracas International School. She was very concerned that her sons be fluent in Spanish.


In 1988, its members decided to take the Order Ecumenical out of being with the Caracas House in the vanguard of this effort. Mary and Rob closed the Religious House and moved out to their own apartment overlooking the city. Mary fell and broke one of her shoulders.


In 1990, Mary and Rob decided to turn over the assets and mission of the ICA Venezuela to the Venezuelan team and return to the USA ending up in New York City with $900 in family savings. Mary was concerned about both boys getting a college education, and the importance of establishing a home base in the US for this to happen.  Mary was always the one to take the lead in moving the family and setting up a new home. She renovated the family’s new apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and then found a house – the first one ever for just the family – in New Rochelle, southern Westchester, to get the boys out of the chaotic energy of New York City.  She worked hard encouraging Christopher to finish high school and helping Benjamin complete college.


Mary then found an apartment in Larchmont and led the move there. She became very concerned about what she would do next after a life in the Order and the Institute and after the boys left home for college.  She thought of getting an advanced degree in theology but finally decided to get a Masters in Family and Pastoral Counseling at Iona College.


Once again, she led the family’s move to Peekskill in the beautiful Hudson Valley where she and Rob bought their first house with help from Mary’s dad. When Mary’s dad and later her mother came down with cancer, Mary and her sister Marjorie helped them each in turn pass away peacefully at home. This awakened in Mary a passion for hospice work. She herself was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had a successful operation after which she completed her requirements and received her M.S. in family and pastoral counseling. She enjoyed empowering the mentally ill, helping families, and working as group processor in the Spiritual Guild of the Wainwright House. She especially enjoyed attending Jean Houston’s Mystery School as often as possible. Mary also helped her parents-in-law make the decision and move to the Oklahoma Christian Home in Edmond where they could be cared for.


Mary found a house in Garrison overlooking the beautiful Hudson Highlands and moved the family there. She enjoyed leading a local team conducting the US census and was suddenly diagnosed with metastasis in the lungs with unknown primary site. She began chemotherapy, finally trying a total of twelve different drugs over three years. She also worked with a Reiki master and a Qi Gong master from China and in February wrote in her journal that her cancer may have come about “because of a need to be kicked into/onto a higher level – an evolutionary leap.” She “could not claim it or story it but only be open to the journey.”


She began to see the matrix of nodules in her lungs as a fractal pattern that had been manifesting itself since she was a little girl of eight when she “fell into the stars” and “did not exist.” She named the matrix “Indra’s Net” after the Indian concept of the cosmic net of jewels or points of light of interconnectivity. As I “keep going deeper into the stars, I don’t exist. Stars are patterns of light . . . In the midst of return the message through light, a reflection of the I AM, not a light generated by me inside me – me is me – but this me is captured in the light and has become a reflection – light in every cell.


Light resurrecting

Live in now

If caught in this light/life


Cancer – true darkness

Primordial light

Penetrate to higher fertility/creativity

True Darkness

Light Resurrects Me

Eternal Now.



In March 2003 her immune system collapsed, and she contracted zoster shingles resulting in severe head pain. The last four months she fought valiantly in and out of hospitals. Because of her condition, chemotherapy was discontinued until close to the end. By then she was becoming weaker both physically and mentally but still she maintained a cheerful presence, was as active as possible and always expressed concern for others.


On 13 July 2003, Mary decided that she was not going to get better and was too tired to continue the fight. Her oldest son Benjamin rushed home to her bedside from work to ask her to reconsider. When he realized the depth of her resolve, he pledged his love to her amidst anguished sobs that gave expression to her husband’s and younger son’s broken hearts as well. That day she asked to be taken off the IV and medicines. The next day her PIC line was taken out. Jean Houston called to affirm her life and to comfort her husband. On 15 July Fr. Shane conducted at Mary’s request a ritual of the reaffirmation of Mary and Rob’s wedding vows witnessed by family and friends in Mary’s room. That evening she was enrolled in hospice care.


On 18 July at 3:40 pm, Mary took her last peaceful, calm breath surrounded by her loving family. With tears and prayers her family expressed their love and gratitude, bowed to her, asked her forgiveness, asked her to go toward the light and crossed her seven energy centers (chakras) with the words “it is within as without, it is below as above.” Meditations were also done to allow her essence to merge with images of the Holy Blessed Virgin Mary and the bodhisattva Kwan Yin, Mary’s two most important archetypes. Mary’s body stayed at home with the family for over 4 hours. When the hospice director arrived, she commented on how peaceful and beautiful Mary looked.

Mary’s Final Poem

(which she wrote in March 2003)


My angle on creation

True Darkness

Light resurrects me

Eternal now

I want to

Help people articulate

 Their angle on creation

 Their sense of foreground/background

 Their life questions

By focusing their energy of

 Current reality

Releasing their energy of

Psychic tensions

Harnessing their energy of

 Mythic, archetypal, interior

 Images and Stories

Integrating their energy of

 Deep connections


I am the light of the world


I am the light of the world


I am the light of the world

Each light is sacred

All lights are one

I am the light of the world

Transforming my cancer

A need to be kicked into/onto a higher level

An evolutionary leap

A fractal pattern –

The first journey – 8 years old

 Into the stars until I don’t exist – the message

 A longing for the experience of falling into the stars

a physical experience

I don’t exist – the return

Seeking unknowingly

Blindly, releasing energies

The second journey

 Cancer continues the pushing into other realms

 Fractal pattern

 Keep going deeper into cancer

 I don’t exist

Keep going deeper into stars

 I don’t exist

Stars are patterns of light

Nodes are patterns of Indra’s Net

In the midst of return

The message through Light

A reflection of the I AM

Not a light generated by me

Inside me – me is me

But this me is captured

 In the light and has become

 A reflection – light in every cell

Light resurrecting

 Live in now if

 Caught in this light/life

Cancer – true darkness


 Primordial light

 Penetrate to higher


True darkness

 Light resurrects me

Eternal now

New feminine – sacred

 Image woven in my

 Lungs – Indra’s net

Reminder of the fractal pattern

Journey – to receive the message

 I don’t exist

The return

 Where am I now

The mythic

 Harnessing irrational energy

Energy process


 Vibrational movement

 Light pouring into dark dense cells

Thanking darkness

 Enabling me to move out

 Received as darkness

 The Great Doubt

Forms in front – 3 inches

 From sternum – coalescing

Needs an objective symbol

– The Great Doubt

– The Friends

How can I connect

 Being salt of the Earth

 And light for the world?

How can I shine in a salty way?

 Pouring forth ions that bring

 Ease and calm and peace and aliveness?

What is birthing?

What is implanted?

What is ready to grow?

I am challenged to demonstrate the

 Sign of the light

– movement and repose

How do I move as light?

How do I rest as light?

I am challenged to be salt to the world:

 Alive, piquant, essentially good

 The salt of the Earth – a preserver

 The taste of the sea, the giver of


How may I cherish saltiness,

in myself and others?

How am I salt to the world?

I am challenged to be a light

 Shining among the people

 Who see the good you do and

 Praise the I AM, Mystery, Divine Light.

May those things I touch

 And create be structures of light

 Dedicated to light

May I feel myself part of the explosion

 Of inward light, capable of returning

 Consciously and freely into the

Source of Light.

I remember and honor the loves of my life.

I enjoy with delight the signs of loves celebration


I open freely and respond creatively

 To the mystery of each present moment

 I work to deepen and stabilize an awareness of the

 work of the spirit and soul

 Illuminating my understanding of the forces

 That work in beauty within

 Me and all beings

Divine light is prayer

 May my prayer shine

 The light of divine care

 On children. May I help

 To create a world where

 Children are cherished

 May divine light as I

 Experience it in my body

 Work to heal my wounds

 Work to heal the wounds of

 The children, the Earth.


Energy vortex

Waters unleashed


Rushing energy

Water vibrates

Receives all

Embraces, cleanses

Darkness and pain

Falls away

Purity of light

Unseen calm

Flow beneath

Patterns created


Obituary: Words of Praise and Remembrance of Mary


At the age of 60 after an eight-year journey with cancer, Mary Elizabeth Avery Work passed over on Friday 18 July 2003 surrounded by her loving family at her home in Garrison, NY. A Requiem Mass was celebrated for the repose of her soul at St. Mary-in-the-Highlands in Cold Spring on Tuesday 22 July at 11 am.


Mary was born to Ben and Donda Avery in Phoenix, Arizona, on 27 September 1942, and attended public schools there including the first integrated high school in Phoenix. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.A. in History from Arizona State University, Tempe, with her honors thesis on the minority peoples of China. Mary then joined the Peace Corps and served for two years in East Malaysia in a Chinese village as the English teacher.


Upon her return to the US, Mary attended Graduate School at the University of Chicago in Chinese studies. She then transferred to Chicago Theological Seminary where she met a fellow student, Moorman Robertson (Rob) Work, Jr. Mary and Rob were married in 1968 and were on the faculty of the Ecumenical Institute/Institute of Cultural Affairs in Chicago.


In 1970 they were assigned to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to direct the Institute’s programs of theological and leadership training. In 1972 they were assigned to Seoul, Korea, where they helped establish the Institute and conducted theological and leadership training and initiated human development projects in poor, rural villages on Cheju Island and north of Seoul near the DMZ. Mary and Rob gained two sons in Korea, one by adoption, Benjamin, and one by birth, Christopher. In 1978 they were reassigned back to the US where Mary was co-director of the Institute in Dallas and then in Indiahoma, Oklahoma, where they conducted a human development project.


In 1980 Mary and Rob were reassigned to Jamaica, where they helped established and were co-directors of the Institute and initiated several human development projects in rural villages in the Blue Mountains and conducted leadership training with many organizations. In 1984 the Works were assigned to Caracas, Venezuela, where they again established the Institute as co-directors and conducted human development projects in Barlovento and Zona Zuata as well as organizational development projects.


In 1990, Mary and Rob returned to the US coming to New York City and soon moved to Larchmont and then to Peekskill. In 1995 Mary had a successful operation for ovarian cancer. Mary then received her M.S. in Family Counseling from Iona College and worked in mental health empowerment, family counseling and the Processor for the Spiritual Guild of the Wainwright House in Rye. Mary and her family moved to Garrison over three years ago and Mary led part of the US Census in the area.


Mary was a member of St. Mary-in-the-Highlands in Cold Spring and attended Dr. Jean Houston’s Mystery School regularly. Mary was predeceased by her parents Ben and Donda and her older sister Nancy. She is survived by her husband Rob, two sons Benjamin and Christopher and Jennifer, her sister Marjorie Bachert (Whidbey Island, Washington), mother-in-law, brother and sister-in-laws, and many cousins, aunts, nieces, and nephews.



Mary was a saintly person full of life, love and light and will be greatly missed. She was grateful for her life and gave herself to her many loves of family, friends, youth, children, the poor and all those who are not cherished. Her family and friends both near and far feel her warm presence with them daily since her passing and are confident that she is with her God in rest and celebration and will receive many new assignments bringing love and light to others.


(given by her husband at her memorial service)


I am so very grateful for the life and love of Mary Work, my wife and life partner over these thirty-five years. She is truly an angel of light and love who in her humility and humanity cared for and brought people together in amazing ways.  Time and time again, she challenged me and many others to go out into the world in care, service, and confidence.


Mary died her death the way she lived her life – in humility, gratitude, and compassion. When she made the decision last Sunday to stop her cancer treatment and to prepare to let go, even though she said it was the most difficult thing she had ever done, she did it with grace and simplicity. She literally lay down before God and gave up her life in complete trust and gratitude.


Her room was filled with flowers and plants that friends and family had brought to express their love. She received phone calls and emails from around the country and the world from people whose lives she had touched. After battling cancer for eight years, she had decided it was time to go home for renewal, celebration, and another assignment.


Our two sons, Benjamin, and Christopher, and I are so very grateful for her life and for our lives with her and each other. We have lived and served as a missional family in villages, slums, and with organizations in Chicago, Malaysia, South Korea, Oklahoma, Jamaica, Venezuela, and New York.


Mary had tremendous energy and intelligence that she used to exercise her care for others. She led village meetings, wrote poetry and theological reflections, initiated human development projects, created beautiful, intriguing art, advised and supported her husband at the United Nations, led leadership training sessions, helped establish financial systems for village cooperatives, was a prior in a secular-religious Third Order, taught school, ministered to the mentally ill, counseled families, was the Processor for a spiritual guild, and helped conduct the US census in her locality. She did all of this with humility and energy in such a way as to transform people, relationships, and social structures.


But the work she loved best and thought most important was the creation and care for her family – her two sons and husband – and her parents and parents-in-law, as well as many other families. She believed passionately that the family was the daily place, time, and relationship where humanness was born and nurtured, and she acted out her support of this with abandon and selflessness. She loved young people and wanted to create a world that cherished every child.


Just four months ago, she came to understand her cancer not as an enemy but as part of her spiritual journey. She writes in her journal that her cancer may have come about “because of a need to be kicked into/onto a higher level – an evolutionary leap.”  She “could not claim it or story it but only be open to the journey”.


She began to see the matrix of nodules in her lungs as a fractal pattern that had been manifesting itself since she was a little girl and that she named Indra’s Net – the cosmic net of jewels or points of light of interconnectivity. As I “keep going deeper into the stars, I don’t exist. Stars are patterns of light. . . in the midst of return, the message through light, a reflection of the I AM, not a light generated by me inside me – me is me – but this me is captured in the light and has become a reflection – light in every cell. Light resurrecting, live in now, if caught in this light/life. Cancer – true darkness. Primordial light. Penetrate to higher fertility/creativity.


True darkness

Light resurrects me

Eternal now.”


Four months ago, she wrote this declaration about her life purpose based on the energy model she had been working on for years:

Helping people articulate their angle on creation

Their sense of foreground/background

Their life questions

By focusing their energy of

 urrent reality

Releasing their energy of

Psychic tensions

Harnessing their energy of mythic,

Archetypal, interior images and stories

Integrating their energy of

Deep connections


Thank you, my beloved, for living among us full of grace and love. Thank you for remaining with us in our hearts and minds and spirits and in this wide world to guide and inspire. May you continue to realize perfect peace, happiness, wisdom, and compassion forever.  Amen.