Mary Dyma, O.C.

(1899 – 1998)

Mary Sawczak Dyma was the first Ukrainian woman to graduate from a Canadian university. She put her education to work, supporting her community. Dyma was born in 1899 and immigrated to Winnipeg from Borschiw, Ukraine in 1920. After enrolling at the Grade 11 level at St. Mary’s Academy she excelled in learning the English language within a few months. She graduated in 1923 from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Dyma taught in Stuartburn, Manitoba and was school principal in Ethelbert 1923 to 1924.

Dyma’s teaching career ended when she had to make a choice between marriage and a career. She married Dr. Bronislaw Dyma in 1925 and the couple had two sons: Bernard and Donald. Her husband encouraged her to become involved in community work to use her acquired skills. She ran for Winnipeg school trustee and was elected. While on the school board, she became president of the League of Women Voters.

During the Second World War, she served on the executive of the Ukrainian Canadian Relief Fund. In 1944, she was a founding member of the Winnipeg Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League and first president. She helped found the national league, an organization which united local Ukrainian Catholic parish leagues across Canada giving Ukrainian Catholic women a voice in their commitment to the mission of the Church. It is known today as the Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League of Canada (UCWLC).

In 1950, she became president of the League of Women Voters, a group advocating for improving public policy through education. Representing the UCWLC at a World Congress of Mothers held in Brussels, Belgium in 1953, Mary had the opportunity to address the assembly. Before that she attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London.

Mary received several awards in recognition of her community work: Taras Shevchenko Medal (1962); Centennial Medal (1967); Papal Medal “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (1983); Order of Canada (1989). A Ukrainian chapter of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE) was named in her honour. The National UCWLC established The Mary Dyma Religious Studies Scholarship to assist Ukrainian Catholic women preparing for a religious life.

At age 99, Mary Dyma died on 12 October 1998 at Holy Family Home and was buried at All Saints Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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