Mobile Christian-Jewish Dialogue

Paul and Mary Filben

Paul Filben was born on May 18, 1930 and grew up in a Catholic family in Wheeling, West Virginia. After graduating from high school in 1948, he went on the road as a traveling musician until he was called up by Selective Service in 1951. With the help of a well-placed friend, Paul ended up in the Infantry Center Band in Fort Benning, Georgia, and from there he was transferred to Korea, where he worked as a "Musician Entertainer." Forming a band there, Paul travelled all over Korea and performed with such stars as Debbie Reynolds and Jeff Chandler.

Mary Filben was born on April 7, 1930 in Phenix City, Alabama, and grew up in nearby Union Springs with two sisters and a brother. When she was 19, she met Paul just before he left for Korea, and they corresponded for about six months. Paul says he was heart-broken when the correspondence ended.

Paul was transferred to an Air Force base in California, serving in a unit named SCARWAF, Special Category of the Army with the Air Force, doing some radio anouncing in his free time. While he was there, he received a phone call from Mary which led to their meeting up in Wheeling when Paul got out of the service, and eventually led to their marriage.

The couple was drawn to Virginia with the prospect of a job that did not materialize, but Paul supported his family with his music talent. They then moved to Americus, Georgia, where Paul did radio anouncing and Mary gave birth to their first two children, Paul and David. While in Americus the Filbens got to know the family of President Jimmy Carter, and Paul enrolled in Georgia Southwestern on the GI Bill. Paul and Mary were involved in civil rights activities, and Paul once wrote an editorial comment criticizing the White Citizens Council, as a result of which the radio station was bombed.

From Americus the Filbens moved to Pensacola, Florida, where Paul was a salesman, and from there they moved to Mobile, where Paul took a job at Doctor's Hospital setting up a program for treating alcoholism and drug abuse. Eventually Paul opened his own outpatient unit, the first in Mobile, and he worked at that for over twenty-five years. On the side he continued to play with his band at weddings, parties, and restaurants, averaging a hundred performances a year.

Mary had converted to Catholicism when they got married, and in Mobile they were members of Holy Family Parish. They were invited to join Bishop May's Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission, focusing on the civil rights activities of the commission. When Bishop May wanted to start a direct dialogue with the Jewish congregation of the Spring Hill Avenue Temple, Sr. Sara Butler recommended that he entrust the task to Paul and Mary.

The story of the Mobile Christian-Jewish Dialogue is told on the page "Our Story." The dialogue became a major part of the Filbens' lives, and for nearly thirty-five years they were its guiding spirit.

Mary Filben died on January 5, 2010. She was preceded in death by her son David, who was killed in an automobile accident. She was survived by Paul, their sons Paul, Christopher, and Philip, and grandchildren James Cassidy, Noah, and Jessica.

Fr. John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, Ph.D., Professor and Director, Catholic-Jewish Studies Program, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, and Immediate Past President, International Council of Christians & Jews, wrote this tribute to Paul and Mary: "For the past several decades Paul and Mary Filben have been a continuing source of inspiration to me. Their dedicated efforts despite many obstacles to implement the fundamentally new perspectives on the Jewish-Christian relationship emerging from recent church documents and contemporary scholarship at the community level has been a model for this nation. "Mobile" has become a recognized name of distinction around the country and even internationally because of their work. They have brought distinction to their own Catholic community and to the religious community at large in their beloved city."

Dr. Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University added her tribute: "Paul and Mary have, through their own strength -- their conviction, their tenacity, their dedication -- brought light where there is heat, understanding where there is ignorance, and friendship where there is mistrust. Their strength is a gift and an inspiration!"