Mary-Patricia Ashby (Baltimore Sun / March 19, 2012)

The Rev. Mary-Patricia N. Ashby, a retired Episcopal priest who had been rector of a Frederick County church, died Wednesday of a cardiac arrest at Frederick Memorial Hospital.

The Mount Airy resident was 71.

The daughter of a career naval officer and a homemaker, the former Mary-Patricia Neese was born in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"Because she was a Navy brat, they moved every three years. So, she was raised in Annapolis, Florida, Washington and Hawaii. She never really called any one place home," said her husband of 48 years, John Ashby, a retired history professor who taught at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville.

After graduating from St. Agnes Episcopal School in Alexandria, Va., in 1958, she earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1962 from American University in Washington.

She taught school for a year in Silver Spring public schools before her marriage in 1963. She and her husband then moved to Catonsville, where she raised her two children.

After they were grown, Mrs. Ashby entered Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where she earned a master's degree in 1992 in divinity.

She was ordained an Episcopal priest by Bishop A. Theodore Eastman in 1993 at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore, and then served for two years as assistant rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in Mount Washington.

"She was innovative and a skilled quilter and needlepointer. She made a banner for the parish and did altar hangings. She was always very generous with her time and efforts," said the Rev. Lance A. B. Gifford, former rector of St. John's.

"She was a vivacious person and you always knew where you stood with Mary-Pat. She could see through any phoniness," he said. "And she got along well with the young people of the parish."

From 1994 to 2003, she was deployment officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. In 2003, she was appointed rector of Grace Episcopal Church in New Market.

During her tenure at the Frederick County church, Mrs. Ashby played an instrumental role in the construction of a new church on Green Valley Road, and oversaw the move of the congregation from its former building on Market Street.

"And that was no small feat. It wasn't easy because that had been in the old building in downtown New Market since the late 1800s, so it was a big change," said Scott L. Baer, a member of Grace for five years and currently senior warden.

"And she was with the church from its inception to its completion. She was part of the entire process, and that's her legacy," said Mr. Baer, who was Mrs. Ashby's senior warden the last year she was at the church.

He said Mrs. Ashby was a consensus builder.

"She could get people to cooperate and she was there for anyone who needed her. She was well-loved by the congregation," he said.

"Mary-Pat had a direct style of preaching and was very down-to-earth. She was a more behind-the-scenes low-key pastor than the in-your-face type," said Mr. Baer. "She was a very, very kind and wonderful lady."

"Mary-Pat and I were seminary classmates at Virginia Theological Seminary. She was fairly unassuming and an introvert. In our class of seven at seminary, we were always the last to share," said the Rev. Scott G. Slater, former rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Ruxton, who is now chief of staff to the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

"She knew a lot about how to help people and religious communities move to a better place," he said. "When she moved the church in New Market that had no running water or bathroom and had been in the same building for more than a 100 years, she did it in a slow, methodical way and in a quiet and steady manner."

"In addition to being classmates, she placed my name as a bishop's candidate to be rector of Good Shepherd," said Mr. Slater. "She has been a very important part of my life and religious life."

Mrs. Ashby, who had lived in Mount Airy since 2004, enjoyed traveling, knitting, reading and quilting. She retired last year.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, 4 E. University Parkway.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Ashby is survived by a son, J. Gordon Ashby of Lineboro; a daughter, Susan A. Ashby of Houston; a sister, Niki Lallande of Fort Fairfield, Maine; and two grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com