Maria Louisa Slowiaczek, 69, died on October 7, 2022, in Chicago, IL, after bravely facing a rare and aggressive cancer. Maria was born on March 18, 1953, in Brooklyn, New York, one of four children of Joseph C. Slowiaczek, a welder, and Angela M. (Cavallo) Slowiaczek, a mother and a bookkeeper. Throughout her life, Maria strove to improve herself and live well in the world while dedicating her love and care to her family and the many close friends, colleagues, and patients who surrounded her.
As a young woman, she thrilled at discussing ideas and philosophical questions, excelled at academics, and dedicated herself to community events. She loved sitting around a table scattered with the remnants of a Sunday dinner or holiday meal, with members of her large, extended Italian-American family talking over each other and laughing. As an adult, she would recreate the warm and affectionate feelings of these childhood experiences, hosting elaborate holiday meals for friends and family.
Her dreams extended beyond Brooklyn: She insisted on going to college, even though her parents could not afford it and thought that college was for boys alone. Maria worked as a bank teller while applying for scholarships and grants to fund her studies at Hunter College and then Union College in Schenectady, NY, before she enrolled in a PhD program in psycholinguistics at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst. After graduating in 1981, she took a postdoc in the Acoustical and Behavioral Research Lab at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, where she met her future husband George Furnas. After spending three years as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, she returned to Bell Communications Research in NJ to explore Natural Language Processing in the Artificial Intelligence group. She and George were married in 1986 and had their son Zander in 1987.
Maria’s strong desire to work with people struggling with emotional concerns drove her to retrain at New York University as a psychotherapist. She later did psychoanalytic training at The Institute for the Psychoanalytic Study of Subjectivity in NYC. After she and George settled in Ann Arbor in 1995, Maria joined the staff of the Univ. of Michigan’s Psychological clinic. Working as a therapist, supervisor, educator, and leader, Maria had a powerful impact on the Ann Arbor psychotherapeutic community. She quickly
established herself as an incisive, inspiring, and outstandingly effective supervisor and teacher. Many of her students worked with her for years after launching their own careers; many Ann Arbor therapists sought out her counsel and supervision. Her approach was bold, empathic, and emotionally real. She focused above all on the emotional experience of her patients and helped her fellow clinicians and students learn to use their own experiences to connect to their patients.
“She made it seem so easy,” one student remembered. “She was always able to show me what my patient was saying even if they were talking in a whisper. If I get to be half as good as she is, I’d be satisfied.”
Maria conducted a private clinical practice for over two decades. She was a founding member of the Ann Arbor Relational Psychoanalytic Group, and a leader and important contributor to the Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, the Michigan Council for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, and the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology. A member of the IAPSP’s council and creator of IAPSP’s Welcoming Program, Maria is considered by many to have been their first—and enduringly generous—friend in the organization. She presented her work, focused on the therapeutic relationship, dissociative identity disorder, and affective engagement in therapy, at many international conferences and forums, and participated in informal study groups, peer supervision groups, and professional writing and reading groups. A universally admired colleague, whose penetrating intellect and dynamic generativity were matched only by her warmth, humility, and humor, Maria epitomized and furthered the humanistic sensibility of psychoanalysis and Self Psychology, here and abroad.
In addition to work, Maria nurtured her love for performing arts by taking classes in voice, ballet, tap, flamenco, and yoga. One of the places she loved best was a rental cottage in Maine, just a short drive away from her sister Louisa, where she kayaked with George, made lobster-roll feasts, absorbed the peace and quiet of the coastline, and relished jumping in the cold ocean water, suggesting to several people that Maria was part harbor seal. In 2021 she and her husband began splitting their time between Amherst, MA, and Chicago. Maria was in Chicago to meet their new grandson, Leon, when she learned she had cancer.
She is survived by her husband of 36 years, George Furnas of Amherst, MA, and Chicago, IL, her son Zander Furnas of Chicago, IL, and his wife Amy Cesal, her grandson, Leon Cesal-Furnas, her sister Louisa M. Slowiaczek of Brunswick, ME, her brothers Charles S. Slowiaczek of Bradenton, FL, and Joseph A. Slowiaczek of Charlotte, NC, the nephews she spent every Christmas with for more than 25 years, Andrew Sageman-Furnas and Ben Furnas, and their wives, Katelyn Sageman-Furnas and Sarah Laskow, and children Felix, Miriam, and Alanna, as well as numerous other beloved in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, colleagues, and patients.
Family and friends held a graveside service on October 24 at Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago IL. In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to make a donation to the J.S. Bryant School, a therapeutic boarding school for LGBTQ+ students in the Berkshires foothills of Massachusetts, founded by longtime family friends of the Furnas/Slowiaczek Household. Had she lived longer in western Massachusetts, Maria had hoped to be involved in the therapeutic care offered at the J.S. Bryant School during her retirement. Donations can be made at: www.jsbryantschool.org/maria