Meet Mary Stewart Van Leewen: Scholar and Psychologist -- By: Rebecca Flietstra

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 07:2 (Spring 1993)
Article: Meet Mary Stewart Van Leewen: Scholar and Psychologist
Author: Rebecca Flietstra

Meet Mary Stewart Van Leewen: Scholar and Psychologist

Rebecca Flietstra

This article is a chapter in the book For Such a Time As This: Twenty-Six Women of Vision and Faith Tell Their Stories, ed. Lillian Grissen (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991). Reprinted by permission. This book is available from the CBE Book Service.

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen will be a plenary speaker at our summer national conference. We hope that you have enjoyed becoming acquainted with her through this article, and will come meet her in person in July.

Verna Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen’s mother, Verna, wanted her children to fit in with the upwardly mobile. Consequently, Mary attended a high school that tended toward the upper middle class, even though Mary’s family was “barely middle class.” “I always felt out of place there,” recalls Mary, “in terms of my clothing, how much money I had to spend, and so on.”

Mary remembers too that her mother didn’t want her children “growing up particularly interested in a full-orbed Christianity.” When fundamentalist Baptist neighbors started a Bible club, Mary was allowed to go. But her mother, concerned that the Baptists were “a little bit manipulative,” later found activities for Mary that directly conflicted with the Bible-study time.

Verna Mary Stewart, born in London, Ontario, on May 29, 1943, was the third child of Verna Walker and Harvey Stewart. Her father taught physical education and geography at a local high school. Because of World War II, he wasn’t around much during the first few years of Mary’s life; instead, he was busy coaching all the school’s teams and working with the army cadets. When Mary turned eight, her mother returned to teaching. Later, after the Russians sent Sputnik into space, Canadian government and education hierarchies envied Russia’s progress, and recognized the importance of good teachers in achieving such progress. Accordingly, Canadian teachers began to earn somewhat better salaries. “I can remember the difference,” Mary says. “I got new shoes rather than hand-me-downs.”

Mary’s maternal grandparents had lost their farm to one of her grandfather’s colleagues. “My grandfather was so crushed by the fact that a so-called friend would have cheated him out of his farm that he never worked again.” The loss of the farm and the father’s subsequent despair deeply influenced the lives of all the Walker children. The four sons married, but of the five daughters, only Verna, the youngest, married. Mary’s mother had her older brothers as strong male role models and so apparently wasn’t as leery of men and marriage as her older sisters. “The theory in our family,” Mary explains, “is that t...

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