Sister Marie Therese, 73, Baltimore Academy of Visitation last leader

January 21, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Sister Marie Therese, the last superior of the Baltimore Academy of the Visitation in Roland Park, died Saturday of complications of diabetes at the Bishop Joseph H. Hodges Care Center in Wheeling, W.Va. She was 73.

A member of the Order of the Visitation for 53 years, she presided over the closure of the elementary school and monastery founded in Baltimore in 1837.

In the 1970s, as her fellow sisters grew older, she came to the conclusion that her school and monastery could not remain open. The decision drew criticism from parents with children enrolled in the school in the 5700 block of Roland Ave.

"The decision was not made lightly," then-Mother Marie Therese wrote in a 1975 letter to The Sun. "It is the result of meetings, consultations, discussions and, most of all, prayers. There are many times in our lives when we must do the hard thing because it is the best thing under the given circumstances."

After the monastery closed in 1977, the sisters moved to other monasteries founded by the religious order.

Sister Marie Therese went to Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy in Wheeling, where she ran its library, held the title of procuratrix and served on the school's board of trustees.

"She did not put any of the burden of sadness from Baltimore on us," said Sister Mary Grace, a Visitandine nun in Wheeling. "It was a sad, sad time, but she was a wonderful community sister here."

Born in Westminster, the former Clara Evelyn Rainey was a graduate of the Frederick Academy of the Visitation and Ohio Dominican College. She also attended Towson State University.

She entered the Roland Park monastery in 1945 and began teaching at its school several years later. She was elected mother superior in the 1970s.

A member of an old Southern Maryland family, she kept extensive files on Maryland and Baltimore history, often creating displays relating to the Maryland colony's founding or the Baltimore Fire of 1904. She also had a wide knowledge of children's literature and poetry.

"She made `Winnie the Pooh' something that every one of her students knew," said Roberta Gregory, a former Visitandine nun who lives in Ednor Gardens.

Described as creative and artistic, Sister Marie Therese made large bulletin-board displays for her third-grade classroom.

When the school lacked a separate library, she worked to have a structure built and outfitted with books, shelves and card catalogs.

"She was in full charge and got along very well with the parents," said Gertrude Dorsey, whose daughter attended the school in the 1960s. "She was also interested that the children learn the social graces."

In the 1970s, when she came to the decision that the academy and monastery must close, she ran an extensive sale and auction, wherein the institution's antiques, religious paintings and fixtures were sold. The property was sold and developed as Roland Park North.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Tuesday at the Mount de Chantal chapel.

Sister Marie Therese is survived by cousins.

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