How do you tell a story like Maria’s?
On the one hand, you might start with her birthday, but then you’d have to clarify: do you mean the date of her birth or the date on her birth certificate?
Maria Peluso was born on January 22, in a small town in Italy. On the day of her birth a great snowstorm raged and Maria’s mother was trapped inside her home.
At that time, a child’s birthday was recorded as the day they were registered with the town administration. It was eight days before the storm let up and her mother was able to make it to the village. Thus, although she came into this world on the 22nd, her birth certificate and legal documents state her birthday on January 31.
On the other hand, you could begin with when Maria first came to Concordia University.
After finishing her undergraduate degree in political science at York University in 1975, Maria came to Concordia.
In 1980, she completed a graduate diploma in community politics and the law and in 1986, a Master’s in public policy and public administration.
Following the completion of her studies, Maria’s professional career began by teaching at Concordia as well as several other institutions.
However, Maria’s contribution to Concordia goes far beyond the classroom. From 1994 until this past October, Maria was president of the part-time faculty association (CUPFA). Although Maria also sat on many committees at Concordia, it is how she carried out her role as CUPFA president that has left a lasting impact on members of the Concordia community.
“Maria Peluso could be considered much like a de facto Provost of part-time faculty. In this role she has contributed so much, not only to the association’s faculty members in all the faculties but also to an academic mission, her students, staff, and the university as a community. She has brought indefatigable energy and effort to so many university initiatives over the years, such as the annual charitable campaigns, services to students and the like,” wrote Lorraine Oades, vice-president of professional development at CUPFA.
Members of CUPFA agreed with Lorraine, “She is extremely proud of her members and her membership in the union and she’s somebody who really wants to do her best both for students and for her union members at Concordia,” said Kathleen Perry, former associate dean in the faculty of fine arts.
“She really is the person who takes everyone to heart. [A] great advocate for anything part-time teachers needed,” said Father John Walsh, a former professor at Concordia.
Marcel Danis, a former vice-president of the university, describes Maria as a fierce campaigner for her members’ rights. In his role as vice-president, Marcel sat across from Maria at the negotiation table.
“She’s probably the toughest labour leader that we’ve had in the university. She’s extremely determined and never lets go. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, if she has an issue that she wants to get and she really believes in, she’s really tough,” he said.
Maria credits her fighting determination and resolve to having grown up as an immigrant, poor, and on welfare. In particular, she cites the actions of her parents.
Her mother worked as a seamstress until she was fired for trying to start a union. Maria, eight years old at the time, helped her mother to find a new job.
Her father was not an activist by birth but simply believed in doing the right thing. While working at a steel mill in Ontario, Maria’s father was bothered by the soot that fell from the smoke stacks and onto the workers’ cars. The workers at the mill were required to park their cars underneath the stacks and Mr. Peluso was concerned about the damage the soot was doing to the cars, the environment, and to the workers. Mr. Peluso brought his grievance to the company’s attention and as a result, the company put pollution control methods into place which kept the soot off the cars and out of their lungs.
Maria has not only shown care and support for members of the Concordia faculty but for the students as well. She played a large role in the creation of two scholarships for women students at Concordia, the Judith Litwack Scholarship, and the Visible Minority Women’s Scholarship, and later the CUPFA Endowment Scholarship. As well, she was a staunch supporter of last year’s student strike, despite the diversity of interests.
Her leadership was a win-win for the university and for the students during the protest.
On the one hand, Maria supported her teachers who were trying to do their jobs, but she also supported the rights of those who wanted the freedom to protest. Additionally, she also supported those students who didn’t want their classes disrupted.
Her respect for diversity and freedom, a feature noted by all of her friends and colleague, was likely the source of this conflict.
In the greater Montreal community, Maria has acted as a mentor and guide for women in business. She was president of the Montreal Business and Professional Women’s Club from 1986-1989 and continues to serve on its board of directors. In addition, she is remembered by former employee, Ruth Pelletier, as being instrumental in her success in rejoining the workforce.
“I had been out of the workforce for some time … so she took me under her wing and really taught me the ropes … she mentored me very, very well. From that I ended up sitting on boards of many different not for profit organizations. I was in media, CJAD radio, CFCF radio, I finally ended up being executive director of Alliance Quebec,” said Pelletier.
Alexander Antonopoulos, a professor at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, describes Maria as a “Concordia University feminist powerhouse.”
“Maria never shied away from engaging in a way that was not always ‘safe’. She was comfortable in discomfort and that’s the kind of thing that those who are doing feminism today have to become better and better at because feminism is not necessarily what media crack it up to be ..] And so, from that perspective, she wasn’t really being a man in a man’s world, she was bringing her feminism into political action as a way of interfacing with power.”
Although Maria stepped down as president of CUPFA this past fall she has not slowed down in the least. Maria is currently serving on Concordia’s board of governors as the part-time faculty member representative and continues to pursue other projects around campus and throughout Montreal.
A tireless crusader, Maria will no doubt continue to fight, advocate and work on the behalf of women, members of the Concordia community and humankind as a whole.