Activist for educational equality and social justice
On August 30th, Sister Ann Fox passed away in Kigali, Rwanda, surrounded by members of the Benebikira Sisters, her adopted Rwandan congregation. As was her wish, she will be buried in Rwanda, the country she came to love and considered home on October 8. Locally a memorial mass will be celebrated on December 16 which would have been her 90th birthday. The mass will take place at 5PM at St. Monica’s Church, 3310 Old Colony Ave in South Boston.
Sister Ann was a life-long advocate of education, particularly for at-risk and disadvantaged children and a social justice activist. She is survived by her sister, Sandra Lazarus of Apopka, Florida; brother-in-law, Tom Tilt of Saline, Michigan; nephews Todd (Terri) Lazarus of Orlando, Florida; George (Sandy) Tilt of Saline, Michigan, and John (Barbara) Tilt of Cass City, Michigan, as well as numerous grand and great-grand nieces and nephews. Also remaining is her adopted niece, Melissa Peery of Arlington, Virginia.
Additionally she leaves behind a community of life-long friends and activists in South Boston, the many educators and social justice advocates who she employed or inspired, the board members of the thriving nonprofits she founded, the thousands of students whose lives she improved, and her beloved Benebikira Sisters. Sister Ann is preceded in death by her mother Mary Fox, her father Homer Fox, sister Jacqueline (Fox) Tilt, niece Karen (Lazarus) Cardozo, and brother-in-law David Lazarus.
Sister Ann leaves an amazing legacy of good works and leadership that positively influenced the lives of so many and left an unmeasurable impact on her communities. Prior to taking vows, Jeri Fox, as she was known, graduated from University of Michigan in her home state and then went on to earn an advanced degree in Social Work from Fordham University in 1958. While in New York she worked at the Kennedy Child Study Center, a Catholic psychiatric clinic and day school. Her work focused on counseling parents of children with intellectual disabilities.
In 1961 she took her vows with the Daughters of Charity and continued her work with children, eventually moving to Boston in 1969 to run a program for women and children receiving public assistance at the Bromley-Heath housing project. After Vatican II made it possible, Sister Ann chose to remove her habit and live among those she served. She was consecrated by the Archbishop of Boston in 1974 and sent forth as a Sister living in the world, supporting herself, while ministering in the community.
In Boston, Sister Ann quickly became an important part of the community, where her charismatic nature and genuine interest in people, made it difficult to say no to her requests and helped her to attract and harness the talents and resources of volunteers and donors near and far. She was known for listening to what the community told her it needed, rather than what officials thought they might need. An early example of this happened at Bromley-Heath. Although it was not her original assignment, when the mothers approached Sister Ann and asked for vocational training so that they might find good jobs, she secured funding for and created a program that allowed them to do just that.
The program was later recognized by then Governor Dukakis.
Also in these early days, she would learn the importance of educational enrichment for at-risk children who may attend school but lack access to books at home, clubs, computers, travel, and all the extra curricular activity and support that advantages children from more affluent homes.
Sister Ann would go on to serve for many years as the executive director of the South Boston Neighborhood House and, in 1997, co-founded the Paraclete Center, an after-school enrichment program for urban children, with life-long friend and educational advocate, Barry Hynes. Additionally she formed and nurtured the Stella Maris mothers’ group, who supported the Paraclete and other neighborhood endeavors with her over the years.
Before closing in 2020, the Paraclete served more than 1,000 children of South Boston. After fulfilling its educational mission, the old St. Augustine’s convent which housed the Paraclete is set to become affordable housing for senior citizens, extending Sister Ann’s legacy for decades to come.
Sister Ann was recognized for her work several times, including the Harvard Friends of Education award in 2008, the Team Heart’s honor in 2011, and the Boston Celtics Heroes Among Us Award in 2012.
In December 1999, Sister Ann was invited to participate in the Women Waging Peace program, created by Swanee Hunt, US Ambassador to Austria and hosted by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The event would have an important and lasting effect on her life and take her to Africa for the first time well into her seventh decade. At the meeting, Sister Ann was introduced to Aloisea Inyumba, the late governor of the Kigali-Ngali province in Rwanda, who invited her to visit. This led to over two decades of work with schools and children in Rwanda.
Most prominently among this is the founding of the Maranyundo Girls School (MGS) in Nymanta, Rwanda, a boarding school open to all girls regardless of social station or economic status. MGS has grown into a highly regarded educational institution focused on building the next generation of women leaders in Rwanda and educating more than 4,000 girls to date.
In Rwanda, Sister Ann befriended and worked with everyone, including local parents, women’s cooperatives, farmers, entrepreneurs, the nation’s first lady, and the renowned late Dr. Paul Farmer.
Perhaps most importantly she met the Benebikira Sisters, a native order of catholic nuns whom Sister Ann recognized as kindred spirits for their active engagement with and devotion to the communities they serve. She joined forces with the Benebikira as they worked to expand education and healthcare across Rwanda and never looked back, finding a new home and new community 7,000 miles away from her beloved Southie. Over the years she introduced many friends, family members, teachers, and students from North America to Rwanda and few things made her happier than watching others learn to admire the country the way that she did.
In late 2022, Sister Ann decided it was finally time to slow down and sold her home in South Boston with the intention to spend the rest of her time with the Benebikira Sisters in Rwanda, while continuing to help others.
One of her final acts was to found the Rwandan Women Rising (RWR) non-profit, an organization focused on supporting the Benebikira’s continued work in Rwanda and East Africa. Sister Ann will be missed by her family, countless friends, the Benebikira Sisters, and the innumerable individuals she helped and inspired with her selfless work.
Please consider a donation to RWR in Sister Ann’s honor to ensure her work in Rwanda continues.
Rwanda Women Rising
2100 Langston BLVD, Suite 330
Arlington, VA 22201