Peace activist Mary Eoloff of St. Paul flew to Israel 13 times to see the man imprisoned as a traitor for exposing Israel’s nuclear weapons program.
She and husband Nicholas Eoloff had adopted the man, Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at an Israeli nuclear facility, in hopes of helping him leave prison and come to America.
Although released from custody in 2004, Vanunu was not allowed to emigrate. But he remained in close contact with the Eoloffs.
Mary Eoloff mailed Vanunu a card in time for his 60th birthday, Oct. 13, the same day he learned Eoloff had died in Minneapolis two days earlier. She was 82.
“She was one of the strongest and most consistent voices for nonviolence in our parish,” said Mike Gude, who served with her on the Justice and Peace Committee at St. Francis Cabrini Church in Minneapolis.
Mary Eoloff founded a local chapter of Pax Christi, a Catholic peace and social justice group, in 1980 when former President Jimmy Carter reinstated the draft.
“Our son was 18 years old, and I was shocked,” she told the National Catholic Reporter earlier this year. “We and a multitude of others had been keeping him alive for 18 years, and now my government was saying he could be a target and he could kill someone.”
She became chairwoman of the Minnesota chapter of Pax Christi USA and a member of Middle East Peace Now.
She co-founded the Peace Studies Task Force, published a textbook for high schoolers about conscientious objection, and traveled from archdiocese school to school teaching nonviolence as a way to resolve conflicts.
She’d often pray with Minnesota prison inmates, too.
“She had an affinity for people who were poor, who were tortured, who were downtrodden,” said son Eric Eoloff of St. Louis, Mo. “And she spent a lot of time helping people in Guatemala, helping people in Palestine, and helping people throughout the United States.”
Mary Eoloff was active in the Overground Railroad through the University of Minnesota Newman Center, helping Central American refugees get to Canada. She and her husband also protested U.S. combat training of Latin American soldiers at Fort Benning, Ga.
In 1949, Mary Bunting graduated as valedictorian from St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Paul and in 1953 from the then College of St. Catherine. She taught English at Shakopee High School in 1953 and 1954.
She and Nick Eoloff married in 1955. He became a lawyer and edited law books at West Publishing. She moved from full-time homemaker to full-time peacemaker in the late 1970s, getting arrested at least 10 times in protests.
“Her activism evolved from conscientious objection to looking at U.S. policy to exploring the issues of nuclear weaponry and buildup of nuclear arms,” Eric Eoloff said.
Dorothy Leathers, 85, of Minneapolis, was in the advocacy group Mary Eoloff co-founded. Leathers recalled a brilliant, soft-spoken activist who could always find a middle ground.
“She was a peacemaker not only in a broad sense but in a personal way,” Leathers said. “She was a gentle person, often smiling. She was a person of deep faith.”
Mary died of heart and lung problems five months after Nick’s death.
“I admired the woman,” said the Rev. Tom Garvey, retired from St. Frances Cabrini. “She was a wonderful leader. She was a leader of our parish council. She was always prepared, always a very thoughtful woman.”
In addition to sons Eric and Jonathan, survivors include children Kristin Kramer, Sara Hyland, Andrea and Nicholas Eoloff; 14 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Services have been held.