60 years of teaching ethics Philosopher: At 83, Sister Virgina Geiger is still as dedicated and energetic as the day she started as a philosophy teacher at the College of Notre Dame six decades ago.

The Education Beat

March 25, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

BY HER ESTIMATE, Sister Virgina Geiger spent 10 hours last weekend preparing to teach 50 minutes of philosophy early Monday morning at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

Wouldn't you think she'd have it down by now? After all, she's been teaching philosophy at Notre Dame for 60 years. At 83, she's still running on high, as energetic as professors half her age.

"It's fascinating to grow older," she says. "Spiritually and intellectually, it's the greatest period of my life."

It's also fascinating to consider the thens and nows of a professor's six decades on North Charles Street.

Then, when the young nun, a "perfect flop" as an elementary school teacher, began her job at Notre Dame, there were no computers, no televisions. Students had to be in their rooms by 7 p.m., and academic life was strictly regimented by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who outnumbered lay professors eight to one. Students who missed Mass were "jugged" -- confined to campus. No student had a car.

"It wasn't an easy thing to come to college," remembers Sister Virgina.

Now, students have "so many more advantages," she says. They study around the world. They are employed on campus and off. They have cars on campus, computers and televisions in their dorm rooms.

But "so many students can't read or write well," says Sister Virgina, "and just plain knowing about things isn't enough. They've got to find meaning in what they know. It's hard for some of them."

Stephen Vicchio, 46, who was hired by Sister Virgina to join Notre Dame's philosophy staff a couple of decades ago, says there's a "dire need for the tiny band of people like Sister Virgina, people with their moral compasses always pointed due north."

And surely in this world there's a calling for professors who can teach philosophy, theology and ethics. Monday morning, Sister Virgina was teaching about the influence of philosopher John Locke on the nation's founders, but in another class on another day she might lead a discussion of Monica Lewinsky, President Clinton and the nature of evil.

"A person never becomes a good person," says Sister Virgina, "until she has known evil in her life. I never knew what evil was."

Sister Virgina says she enjoys coming to grips with the philosophical conundrums of our difficult age.

"Can Clinton be a good president and not be a moral person?" she muses. "Well, an artist can be a bad person and still produce great works of art." She doesn't quite answer her own question.

If it's God's will that she retire, she'll do it, Sister Virgina says. "I suppose it will soon have to come."

She's busy compiling the genealogy of Charles Carroll of Carrollton and preparing, along with the rest of Notre Dame, for the inauguration of a president, Mary Pat Seurkamp, on April 3. Seurkamp is young -- 32 years Sister Virgina's junior.

Shame on JHU for change of heart on bookstore

Letter writers Elsbeth L. Bothe (March 12) and Dawna M. Cobb (March 22) were right on target in their criticism of the Johns Hopkins University for backing out of a lease that would have brought a Bibelot bookstore to the 3000 block of N. Charles St. Hopkins officials acted to protect Barnes & Noble, which operates the Homewood campus bookstore.

Cobb pointed out that the Barnes & Noble store has limited hours. She's right about that. But more fundamentally, it's hidden in the basement of Gilman Hall, at least a quarter-mile in any direction from the nearest public parking space.

Charles Village and other areas adjacent to Hopkins desperately need businesses like Bibelot if they're ever to be the equal of such thriving university communities as Charlottesville, Va., and Ann Arbor, Mich.

Hopkins' decision was especially ironic in light of Monday's announcement that Barnes & Noble will anchor the old Hutzler's building in Towson -- a block from a Borders emporium and not far from several bookstores in Towson Town Center.

Workplace mentors needed from business community

The Baltimore Mentoring Partnership is looking for businesses to act as hosts to students from Lemmel and Booker T. Washington middle schools April 29, "Workplace Mentoring Day."

The benefits flow in both directions, says Linda Stewart, executive director of the partnership that gives kids get a start on making informed decisions about careers.

Allen honored by schools for environmental teaching

About 15 years ago, Education Beat took a field trip with a group of city school students to Smith Island, where we mucked around in the Chesapeake ooze in search of knowledge. Our mentor that day, Myrtha Allen, yesterday was named the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's first Environmental Educator of the Year.

Allen, a longtime biology teacher at Patterson High School, picked up the award -- $1,000 and a bronze osprey sculpture -- at a reception at the city schools' North Avenue headquarters.

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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