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Margaret Grace, former president of Grace Institute, dies at 93

Margaret Grace, the former president of the Grace Institute in Manhattan and a devout Roman Catholic who participated in the Second Vatican Council, died in her winter home in North Palm Beach, Fla., of Alzheimer's disease on Feb. 27. She was 93.

Born in Manhattan, the former Margaret Fennelly graduated from Cathedral High School in 1938 and completed a yearlong tuition-free training program at Grace Institute, founded by industrialist W.R. Grace, the grandfather of her future husband.

After graduating, she began working as a secretary at W.R. Grace & Co., in 1939, where she met her husband, J. Peter Grace Jr., W.R. Grace's grandson and chairman and chief executive of the chemical manufacturing company until his death in 1995. They wed in 1941 and had nine children. She became a stay-home mother who was also very active in the religious community.

"She was never idle as a stay-at-home mom," said her daughter, Nora O'Connell, of Marlboro, Mass.

In 1964, Margaret Grace, who lived in Manhasset at the time, went to Rome during the Second Vatican Council to work as an adviser and translator to Cardinal Leon Josef Suenens, her family said. Suenens was one of four cardinals appointed to oversee the debate between 1962 and 1965 about the future of the Roman Catholic Church. She and others assisted the cardinal in areas such as ecumenism, world poverty, marriage and the commitment of priests and women in religion. She stayed in Rome until 1965 and worked for Cardinal Suenens as his U.S. envoy, from her home, until his death in 1996, according to her family.

Margaret Grace earned a bachelor's degree in theology in 1972 from Fordham University. Afterward, she studied theology as a graduate student at Fordham; Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, N.J., and at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, where she earned her master's in theology in 1977.

In 1996, after the cardinal's death, Margaret Grace founded the Cardinal Suenens Center at John Carroll University in Cleveland. The center hosts guest lecturers every year as part of the Margaret F. Grace Lecture series.

She became a member of the Dames of the Order of Malta around 1985. Grace was also a member of the Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher and received the Elizabeth Ann Seton Medal from St. John's University. In addition, she was honored as an "angel" by the Archdiocese of New York and the Ladies of Charity, and received honorary degrees from St. Michael's College in Vermont; Trinity College in Washington D.C.; and the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

In 1995, she became president of the Grace Institute, which provides secretarial and business training to economically disadvantaged New York area women, says its website.

She loved to spend time with her church sisters and her family. "She was down to Earth, as well as being a loving wife and mother," O'Connell said. "She was a good balance for my father, who was kind of eccentric."

In addition to O'Connell, Margaret Grace is survived by three other daughters, Margie Grace-Shethar of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Mary J., of Manhattan; and Theresa M. Sears of Manhasset; and five sons, J. Peter III, of Mount Desert, Maine; William R., of Plandome; Patrick P., of Manhattan; M. Stephen, of Palm Beach, Fla.; and Christopher G., of Sheffield, Mass. She is also survived by 27 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.

Services took place earlier this month. Internment is in Saint Joseph's Abbey, Spencer, Mass. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial donations may be made to Cathedral High School, 350 E. 56th St., New York, NY 10022.

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