Sister Mary Benigna, 94, director of order's cultural, music center

March 07, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Sister Mary Benigna Holland, a former teacher, musician and organist, died Wednesday of heart failure in the health care unit of the Oblate Sisters of Providence at their motherhouse in Catonsville. She was 94.

Sister Benigna had been the director of the Center of Music and General Culture at the order's motherhouse from 1970 until she retired in the early 1990s.

She started her teaching career in the 1930s at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, where she taught English and music. During the 1940s, she taught at St. Augustine Parochial School in Washington.

In the late 1940s, she took a teaching position at the Clifford Academy in Havana, where she taught English and music until 1951, when she returned to Mount Providence Junior College in Baltimore. She remained a teacher at the college until it closed in the early 1970s.

"Religious music was her forte yet she could play and enjoyed playing all types of music," said Sister Alexis Fisher, the order's assistant superior general. "She was still teaching Spanish and playing the piano up until her death."

When Sister Benigna was living in Philadelphia in the 1920s, she often accompanied Marian Anderson, the contralto who was the first black soloist with the Metropolitan Opera. They were lifelong friends.

"She was an expert in Gregorian chants and was a great stalwart in pushing for the old music of the church," said the Rev. Michael J. Roach, pastor of St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Manchester.

A traditionalist, Sister Benigna wore the full habit throughout her life, said Father Roach.

"Despite being a diminutive woman, she was a great, stellar character," he said. "She was a striking woman, and if you met her once you'd remember her all of your days. What a magnificent lady."

Born Marie Teresa Holland in Baltimore, the daughter of Arthur Lewis and Olia Holland, she was raised in Philadelphia, where she graduated from Germantown High School.

She earned a teaching certificate from the Philadelphia Normal School and later earned her bachelor's degree from Rosary College in Illinois and the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

She also studied at the Catholic University of America and the University of Havana. She entered the Oblate Sisters in 1930 and professed her final vows in 1942.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 7: 30 p.m. Monday at Our Lady of Mount Providence Convent Chapel, 701 Gun Road, Catonsville.

She is survived by several nieces and nephews.

Pub Date: 3/07/98

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