The above message was received from the Supreme Body of the Bahá'í Faith, on receiving news of the passing of Knight of Bahá'u'lláh Mary McCulloch. Here is her story.
In our joint memoirs, she wrote: "Back in 1918, in the early hours of a frosty November morning, on November the ninth, a baby girl was born in Winnipeg. Her parents, Michael and Theodora [Olinyk] Zabolotny, were of Ukrainian lineage, from those parts of Ukraine that had been annexed by Austria-Hungary and Russia, respectively. That little girl was later to be known as Mary Zabolotny, and her parents had come to this new land, Canada, by ship across the Atlantic Ocean, to make a new home for themselves in the cold and apparently inhospitable city of Winnipeg. They met and were married there; my father being at the time twenty-two and my mother not quite eighteen. Their wedding day was a cold January 19th, 1915. My brother was born on November 11, 1916, and was given the name Vladimir; later he was called Walter, because it was shorter and easier for the teachers at school to pronounce (and spell). The last name usually had to be spelled out also, as it was meaningless to the teachers, although in Ukrainian it was a common name meaning `over or beyond the marshes'.
"Except for the occasional children's squabble, we were a happy family, and if my father and mother had their arguments, I was always the peace-maker, and had developed a talent for settling their disputes. At a very early age I had also developed a talent for drawing. At the age of seven I joined the library, and gained a love of books. My parents taught us the love of art, music and poetry, and emphasized many a time the importance of getting a good education, of which they had been deprived themselves. They had left their homes so early in their lives and had to struggle to earn a living in a new and strange land, where they had had to learn English to subsist. Therefore, my father taught himself to read and speak English, with help from those he worked with, and from his children. He worked in lumber camps and for the Canadian National Railways. He sold Ukrainian books in his spare time, which resulted in our acquiring a collection of Ukrainian novels, history and poetry, which my mother loved to read to us. Some of these we still have. I remember the concerts every Sunday evening, when we were expected to get up on the stage and recite poems and sing in the choir or take part in little plays or dramas, in the Ukrainian language, also the dancing, which seemed to satisfy an artistic urge to express myself in that form. When we attended public school, at Michael Faraday school, we were not allowed to forget our own language, and had to attend classes in Ukrainian after four o'clock; this was at times wearisome, but it helped retain our identity. The children on our street were of various backgrounds, English, Scottish, Welsh, German, Jewish and Polish. In fact, Mother had a Jewish friend who assisted her as midwife when I was born, as doctors were scarce, and there was no Medicare at that time."
Mary's education was completed in Winnipeg. After elementary and high school, she entered Wesley College (now the University of Winnipeg) at age 15. For her second year she transferred to the University of Manitoba. Finally, she went to the Winnipeg Art School. "At that time, LeMoine Fitzgerald was the Principal of the School, and a most understanding and wise teacher, whose students adored him. He had been a member of the `Group of Seven' artists, who had become famous for finding new ways of expressing Canadian art."
After she graduated, she worked in commercial art for a while. "At that time I was also going back to Art School, for some refresher courses in drawing and painting from life. There I met a fellow artist, Frances Boyce, who was at the time also working as a commercial artist."
Mary and Frances travelled in Yukon and Alaska for several years, paying their way by working at whatever jobs were available, or by selling some of their paintings. Their adventures and experiences are far too numerous to detail here. "I then went home to Winnipeg. After these painting trips were finished, and I was back home in Winnipeg, I began to search for a way of life that would approach what my spirit craved, although at the time I did not know what that was.
"I do not recall exactly when my dream happened. Many years ago I had dreamt about the feast spread in our home, and the King and Queen and many guests visiting us. I remember well the table bountifully spread with good food, and the bejewelled wraps of the guests. The Queen beckoned to me, and asked me to fetch her wrap from the closet. In the closet were many garments, studded with jewels. Some of the furs were colored, in purple, etc. There was a crimson evening gown hanging upside-down. I wondered at this, and thought, `Is this mine?' Many years later, after becoming a Bahá'í I had read the Tablet of Ahmad (which opens with the words "He is the King, the All-Knowing, the Wise! Lo, the Nightingale of Paradise ...") one evening, and some of the truth of the dream dawned upon me. `He is the King' - meant God - and a new Revelation - the Nightingale was Bahá'u'lláh."
"Then, in 1951, a friend from my Art School days, Leonard Woods, sent me a pamphlet on the Bahá'í Faith, saying he thought I would be interested. That was all he said, but after reading the Principles, and a little of the history of the Faith, it seemed to me that I had at last found the Truth, and was ready to support these Principles, but I needed to know more about them. Leonard had said that a friend would contact me, as he was in Vancouver himself. I waited three months and no one contacted me. Then Leonard came from Vancouver to Winnipeg on a holiday. He asked me if I would like to attend a fireside at the home of Angus Cowan, a Winnipeg Bahá'í businessman; he was working for IBM at the time. That was to be a Friday night I would never forget, as this was my first contact with Bahá'ís. Young people met there every Friday to discuss various aspects of the Faith. Angus and Bobby Cowan were very kind and hospitable, sharing much fun and laughter, and with radiant hearts making everyone feel that they were wanted and respected. Many speakers came to that house to talk about some aspect of the Faith, including Glen Eyford and Jamie Bond, both of whom later served on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Canada."
Here is the letter received from the National Spiritual Assembly, which summarizes very well the services Mary offered the Faith:
Mary was not well when we attended the Observances of the Centenary of the Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, in Israel in May 1992, and at the Bahá'í World Congress in November 1992. Early in 1993 she had surgery for cancer. She was quite well when we went on Pilgrimage to the World Centre in Israel in November 1993. In April 1995 we went back to Baker Lake for a one-week visit. In August 1995 she had an accident, and was in hospital 19 days. She got weaker after that, and it appeared that the cancer had come back. Finally, on January 7, she passed away. A couple of weeks before her passing, she told one of the Home Care people that she had fulfilled her life's objectives.
"To the family and friends of Mrs. Mary McCulloch
"We were most deeply grieved to learn of the passing of Mrs. Mary McCulloch, and extend heartfelt condolences to her husband Ken, their daughter Laura and her family, and Mary's many friends. Although we mourn the loss of Mary's physical presence, we are comforted in the knowledge that she has been freed from the limitations of this earthly existence, to soar in other worlds of God.
"Mary's ardent love for the Faith and commitment to its principles was evidenced by the generosity of her response to its needs. For over four decades, Mary served with exemplary dedication. When she arose to settle in Anticosti Island in 1956, she joined that small band of Bahá'ís around the world who had achieved the honour of being named `Knight of Bahá'u'lláh' by the beloved Guardian. This was the crowning laurel in a life that was characterized by a spirit of loving service.
"In addition to earning the title "Knight of Bahá'u'lláh," future Bahá'í historians will record, with joy and gratitude, her many contributions to the growth and development of the Faith in Canada. Within months of her enrollment as a Bahá'í, she helped form the first Spiritual Assembly in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This was followed shortly by her assisting with the formation of Spiritual Assemblies in several localities in the province of Quebec, and then by her service in Anticosti. For over twenty years, she served in Baker Lake with her husband Ken and their dearly-loved daughter Laura, where the McCullochs established Bahá'í House, promoted translation of Bahá'í materials into Inuktitut, and, above all, conveyed the spirit and principles of the Faith to their neighbours with tireless devotion. For the past several years, Mary and Ken have been stalwart promoters of the teachings of the Faith in The Pas, and in recent years, Mary was able to assist with translation of Bahá'í materials into Ukrainian.
"Mary's signal contributions to the work of the Cause were made with quiet courage, steadfast dedication, and profound resolution. Although we cannot be with you physically, we join you in spirit in offering heartfelt prayers for the progress of this maidservant's valiant soul, and for the comfort of her sorrowing family and many friends.
"With abiding love,
"Susan M. Lyons, Assistant Secretary."
Her family wishes to publicly express its appreciation to the Bahá'í community of The Pas, and to the Home Care staff, for all the help they provided at this time.
Mary was predeceased by her parents, her brother Walter, and her grandson Shawn. She is survived by her husband, Ken, her daughter Laura, son-in-law Robin Nablo, and grandchildren Curtis and Sumerlyn.
I will conclude with these words, written by the Custodians of the Faith in 1958.
Words of the Custodians, read at the Bahá'í World Congress, London, England, 1963 (at which we were present):
"The work of Bahá'u'lláh lies before us to be completed. No one generation will do this; a thousand years at least are required to carry out and mature the specific provisions of His Dispensation. But to each man his opportunity, to each generation its tasks. ... Great moments in history require great deeds; great men are not necessarily those best qualified to be great, but rather those who see their chance and seize it, with love and courage, when it offers itself. The records of our Faith show that its heroes and heroines, its saints and martyrs, sprang mostly from the rank and file, but what they possessed, which raised them to the summits of fame and glory, were vision and faith."
Ministry of the Custodians, pp. 104, 106.