Mary Louise Cervone was born on January 20, 1959, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, into a large Catholic family parented by Mario and Rita Cervone. Mary Louise was an accomplished musician and music teacher who earned a bachelor of music degree from Immaculata College in 1980. Professionally she followed in her father’s footsteps as an accountant and earned a masters in Organization Leadership from Immaculata University.
Mary Louise’s passion for people in need led her to leadership in a number of social service agencies in addition to her practice as a certified public accountant. She served in a financial leadership position at Gaudenzia and was the chief financial officer at Philadelphia FIGHT, an AIDS organization, from 2000 to 2008. She was accounting warden at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church from 2004 to 2008. She completed her professional career as CFO for the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center.
She became involved in LGBT activism alongside her Catholic faith with the Philadelphia chapter of DignityUSA as a young adult and served as president of the chapter from 1992 to 1994. She quickly rose to leadership in the national organization and was Treasurer from 1995 to 1997, National Vice President from 1997 to 1999 and National President from 1999 to 2002. In January 2001, Mary Louise and Marianne Duddy, DignityUSA Executive Director, went to Rome where—along with Soulforce—they publicly protested the Vatican’s demeaning attitude toward GLBT Catholics: http://www.dignityusa.org/node/151
Mary Louise was devoted to her son, Danny Burke Cervone, as well as her long-time partner, Mary Bradley. She enjoyed gardening, camping and cooking. She died on February 5, 2013, following a brief struggle with cancer.
Former DignityUSA President, Patrick Roche, who traveled to Vatican City with Mary Louise and Marianne in 2001, gave this tribute: “I will always remember our trip to Rome and the three of us standing in St. Peter's Square singing and praying below the Pope's window. I have also always appreciated the great work Mary Louise did in re-visioning the way our national and regional structures are configured.”
DignityUSA President Lourdes Rodriguez remembered Mary Louise as a visionary leader who modeled the kind of activism that reflected Dignity’s goals and values. “Mary Louise served DignityUSA in many different ways during a period of great transition. She was passionate and generous in her leadership. This organization will always be indebted to her,” said Lourdes.
Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke was first hired into that position by Mary Louise. “I was honored and inspired to serve with Mary Louise,” said Marianne. “She was truly passionate about DignityUSA’s mission and was determined to overcome any obstacle to do what she thought we should. She was willing to risk arrest in Rome by organizing the first sit-in in St. Peter’s Square in something like 75 years to raise awareness of the Vatican’s attacks on LGBT Catholics. She put DignityUSA on the front line of advocating for victims of clergy sex abuse. I remember standing outside the bishops’ meeting in Dallas in 2002, and her calls to them to be accountable for the damage they’d done. She led us in organizing a Mass for survivors and their families when the bishops refused to welcome them in. She was strong, totally committed to her adored son Danny, kind, and funny. She challenged us to give our best to Dignity.”
(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman from information provided on DignityUSA’s web site.)