Joseph Lawrence Perry, 88, educator, advocate of racial integration

December 03, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Joseph Lawrence Perry, a retired educator who was honored by Mount St. Joseph High School half a century after he tried unsuccessfully to bring about racial integration there in the 1940s, died of Alzheimer's disease Monday at St. Martin's Home in Catonsville. The Fallston resident was 88.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., he became an Xaverian brother in 1935 and earned his undergraduate and master's degrees from Catholic University of America and a second master's from Loyola College.

He was given the name Brother Mario and in 1939 was assigned to Mount St. Joseph, where he taught English, math and theology, and coached sports.

In 1943, he became convinced that education was the way to overcome racial injustice and started an interracial study club made up of white students from his school and black students from other Baltimore schools.

"He also attempted, unsuccessfully, to integrate Mount St. Joseph," said a daughter, Marian T. Perry Tamburrino of Baltimore. "At the time, this was a highly controversial social cause, and it became a major turning point in his life."

When the school turned down his request that it admit black students, he left the religious order.

In 1947, he joined Friendship House, an interracial justice group, and worked in New York City's Harlem and in Marathon City, Wis.

A year later, he returned to Baltimore and became a teacher and counselor at what was then Benjamin Franklin Junior High.

He remained there for 18 years and also was a volunteer tutor to Polish immigrants before joining the faculty of John Carroll High School in Bel Air as director of counseling. He retired 15 years ago.

In 1999, 52 years after leaving Mount St. Joseph, the school honored him with its President's Award. The award citation read:

"Your faith in God called you to prophetic deeds at a time in our history when few truly understood the sacredness of all persons. ... Today Mount St. Joseph celebrates your legacy - to foster an interracial community of young men striving to appreciate the richness of their differences."

Mr. Perry also did religious counseling at the old Baltimore City Jail and was active in the Roman Catholic parishes of St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Riviera Beach and St. Mark in Fallston. He frequently visited the sick.

He and his wife raised 19 children, including seven foster children.

"The dinner table was always a party, and it was the happiest part of the day," his daughter said. "We all ate dinner together. On Sundays, my father often cooked to give my mother a day off."

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today in the chapel at St. Martin's Home, 601 Maiden Choice Lane.

Survivors, in addition to his daughter, include his wife of 56 years, the former Kathleen T. Noel; six sons, Joseph M. Perry of Towson, John J. Perry of Edgewood, Lawrence J. Perry of Gettysburg, Pa., Michael J. Perry of Lake Placid, N.Y., Dominic J. Perry of Telluride, Colo., and Martin J. Perry of Fallston; five other daughters, Rose Ann Perry of Edgewood, Mary Pat Fader of Fallston, Kateri M. Ottati of Franklin Square, N.Y., Gloria Perry Russell of Tinnie, N.M., and Peggy R. Perry of Baltimore; two brothers, William Perry and Eugene Perry, both of Whiting, N.J.; and 18 grandchildren.

Mr. Perry is also survived by six of his foster children, Betty Famalaro, Gregory M. Rigby, Leonard Genova and Gerard Lichtenberger, all of Baltimore, Judy A. Cannella of Kingsville and Susan C. Stuart of Phoenix, Baltimore County.

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