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Remembering Eleanor Malburg
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Remembering Eleanor Malburg

Every fall Notre Dame College presents the Eleanor Malburg Eastern Churches Seminar. While newcomers to the campus may wonder who Eleanor Malburg was, others recognize the naming of the Seminar as a lasting memorial to someone who contributed years of dedicated service to the College and a lifelong devotion to fostering ecumenism. Eleanor Szulinski Malburg worked as the Administrative Assistant in Notre Dame College’s Pastoral Ministry Office for over 29 years until her untimely death in December 2003.

I came to know Eleanor intimately though planning the Eastern Church Resource Center and then serving on the planning committee, although I had been at the College for some time before then. My first impression of Eleanor was that she bore an uncanny resemblance to my favorite aunt Jean, who has also since passed on, in appearance, the timbre of her voice and her creative spirit.

Like so many of the College’s support staff, the backbone of the campus, Eleanor’s skills and initiative far exceed her job description. When the Clara Fritzsche Library was built, the Catechetics office was moved into a space that was one half of what is now the library’s first floor computer lab. Out of that tiny office came big ideas.

In 1984, Eleanor and Frances Babic, former director of lifelong learning at Notre Dame College, discovered that they shared a common interest in ecumenism and the traditions and celebrations of the various Eastern Church communities.

They joined forces to create the College’s first Eastern Church Seminar and with the support of Fr. Paul Sciorotta, Director of the Center for Pastoral Ministry at the time, the inaugural seminar entitled “Various Traditions & Theology of the Icon,” was held on September 13-14, 1985. It was aimed at creating a dialogue between bishops of the Eastern, Byzantine and Roman Catholic Churches in the Greater Cleveland area as well as providing topics of interest to the lay person. The first seminar proved so popular that the participating clergy requested a planning committee be formed to make it an annual event.

Since its inception, the Seminar has achieved both local and national attention. In 1989 the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, now a co-sponsor of the event, awarded the Center of Pastoral Ministry with a plaque recognizing its work in fostering Christian unity. In 1996 a similar seminar was initiated in Washington, D.C., citing Notre Dame College’s seminar as its model.

In 1999, looking for a place to house the growing collection of materials donated by Seminar Planning Committee members and participants, Eleanor proposed the creation of a resource center to be located in the Clara Fritzsche Library. The Baker Exhibit Room on the first floor of the Library, vacant since the Archives moved to its new space on the ground floor of the Administration Building, was selected and on April 19, 1999 the Eastern Church Resource Center was dedicated. The Center now houses growing collection of books, videos, DVDs, icons and audiotapes of all of the past seminars.

The materials are cataloged and accessible through the library’s electronic online catalog. All of the items include a purple and white logo designed by the committee members. It is ironic that the finished stickers that Eleanor worked so hard in achieving consensus on concerning their design were delivered to the library just a few days after her death.

Working under six directors in the Pastoral Ministry Center, Eleanor, through her dedication and passionate interest in ecumenism, was the heart and soul of the Seminar, organizing committee meetings, providing refreshments, cleaning up, and coordinating communications and facilitating discussions, all done cheerfully and with bondless energy.

In addition to hosting family gatherings and babysitting, Eleanor also found time to help out at her son-in-law’s restaurant, Mark’s Time Out Grill near 185th Street in Cleveland. Eleanor was never one to complain, even though she had witnessed personal tragedy in her own life. Her husband of 48 years, Ray, was incapacitated by multiple sclerosis, eventually only able to move his head slightly and use a computer controlled by a special device utilizing puffs of breath. Eleanor made a point of bringing Ray to all of the Eastern Church Anniversary celebrations, college art exhibits and other events and elicited his help in creating the brochures for the annual Seminar.

When she lost a relative to a malignant melanoma, it gave her pause about the unpredictability of life. Yet she persevered, creating a lasting legacy of scholarship and goodwill in the form of Eleanor Malburg Eastern Churches Seminar.

Karen Zoller is the director of the Clara Fritzsche Library.