Dirce and Dr. Nohad Toulan, civic leaders killed in a car accident in October, were remembered during a panel that examined interfaith relations in the Portland region.
Dirce, an architect, planner and former Fulbright scholar from Argentina, was a devout Catholic who attended Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Parish. Nohad, an internationally recognized urban planner who was the founding dean of Portland State University’s College of Urban and Public Affairs, was a devout Muslim.
Despite their religious differences, Dirce and Nohad faithfully supported each other and were nearly inseparable during their 50-year marriage, said family friend Mark Rosenbaum.
“Dirce and Nohad acted in a way that set an example for others,” said Rosenbaum, who moderated the panel discussion. “They influenced hundreds of people around them.” They helped break down religious, cultural and ethnic divides, friends say.
To honor the couple’s legacy, PSU’s Institute of Metropolitan Studies coordinated the panel discussion.
Panelists were Holy Names Sister Mollie Reavis, former principal of St. Mary Academy; Rabbi Daniel Isaak, leader of Congregation Nevah Shalom; and Imam Mikal Shabazz, president of the Oregon Islamic Chaplains Organization.
Panelists agreed that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a galvanizing event for many faith leaders, spurring a sense of urgency to bring together different cultures and faiths. Leaders have worked hard since then to foster relationships with other religious communities.
“9-11 woke us up to the fact that we didn’t know much about one another,” said Sister Mollie, who met Nohad when she was at the helm of the Academy, which is located across the street from PSU’s Urban Center. Since then, she said, religious and community leaders, like the Toulans, have worked to foster understanding and education.
As a result, Rabbi Isaak said, Portland’s varied cultures are more united than media sometimes portray. But, he added, it’s up to local clergy to set an example and let that standard filter down throughout the community.
In discussing the state of interfaith relations today, Imam Shabazz said, “We don’t have to agree on everything, but we have to agree that we live in a shared living space” and that we must live together peacefully.
Portland businessman and civic leader Sho Dozono is leading an effort to have the new TriMet bridge named the “Dirce and Nohad Toulan Bridge.”
PSU’s Institute of Metropolitan Studies will dedicate its winter issue of Metroscape magazine to honor the couple’s legacy. That issue, which will be published Feb. 1, can be found online at www.pdx.edu/ims/metroscape. Print copies will also be available at the institute’s office at PSU.
To see a recording of the discussion, log on to go.sentinel.org/1dtJam7.