Paris still reawakens Mary Emory’s senses even though she’s been to the city more than 25 times.
Enamored with the French culture, Emory shares that love with others in Wisconsin and throughout the United States.
On May 31, the retired Brookfield Central High School French teacher received “La Médaille d’Or du Mérite Francophone” – an award created by La Renaissance Française, founded in Paris in 1916 by Raymond Poincaré, president of the French Republic.
The award, given to those who render eminent and exceptional service in promoting the French language and culture, was presented to Emory by the French Ambassador to the United States, François Delattre, at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., and is only the third such award presented to someone in the United States. Candidates are selected by the American delegation and endorsed by the French committee.
According to Jane Robert, president of The American Delegation of La Renaissance Française, Emory was selected because of her long-term sharing of her knowledge of and passion for the French language and the culture it represents.
“Her efforts have made an impact in members of the Alliances Françaises, the American Association of Teachers of French and Beyond,” said Robert in a congratulatory letter. “Students, teachers, travelers and many others have all benefitted from Emory’s successful and rewarding activities.”
“This is really an honor and just wonderful,” she said of the award, noting the celebration took place at the residence of the French Ambassador and included a reception after the ceremony.
The 67-year-old member of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist serves on the committee for the annual Bastille Days fundraising dinner and planning for the annual French Mass.
According to the cathedral’s time and talent coordinator, Helen Gadwa, when the original planning for the French dinner began, Emory was the first name that came to mind when looking for assistance, ideas and leadership.
“Mary has been a key member of the committee, planning ‘An Evening in Paris,’ since it began two years ago,” she said of the cathedral fundraiser held annually during Milwaukee’s Bastille Days festival, explaining that Emory brings leadership, ideas and “a dynamic French flair for the event.”
The “Evening in Paris” event took place in the gardens and atrium at the cathedral, Saturday, July 14, and featured an elegant five-course meal following the French Mass celebrated by Fr. Steve Lampe.
“The French-inspired dinner (was) prepared and served by the Pfister Hotel, wines (were) selected for tasting and dinner service by the Waterford Wine Company,” said Gadwa. “Entertainment is provided by the Trio du Monde. The fundraising event took place just feet away from the Bastille Days Festival.”
Emory has also served as past president and current board member of the Alliance Française de Milwaukee, a school she founded in Shorewood to offer French language classes. The mission of l’Alliance Française de Milwaukee is to promote, share and enjoy the culture, language and friendship of the French-speaking world.
Emory also serves as a board member of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
“The museum was a train station back in the 1800s and 25 years ago it was turned into an impressionist art museum,” said Emory. “It’s located on the Seine and has a large collection of paintings by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh and other masterpieces.”
In addition to her recent award, the French government honored her with the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques for promoting the French culture in America.
For more than 40 years, Emory has been involved with art, music and French programs throughout the Milwaukee area, and has no plans to slow down.
“I just love volunteering, and I love the French language and culture,” she explained. “I took French at Whitefish Bay High School and got hooked on the language. I majored in French in college and loved everything about it.”
Married to John for nearly 45 years, Emory admitted that her husband knows few French words, but enjoys traveling about once a year to her adopted homeland.
“He is very supportive of everything I do with promoting the French language as well as a lot of the other things I get involved in,” she said. “In addition, we have two grown children – a son and a daughter and four grandchildren. We babysit every Wednesday and really enjoy it.”
She enjoys being able to share her love of the French language with her faith while serving as lector during the annual French Mass at the Cathedral, and when attending Mass while visiting France.
“I have attended quite a few church services in France and like it very much, but I admit, I do miss some of the words as they speak quite quickly,” she said, laughing. “We attended Mass one Palm Sunday in Paris and it was wonderful. It is always a treat to share my love of France and incorporate it with my Catholic faith.”