Sister Helen Teresa Egan, 89, professor

February 19, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Sister Helen Teresa Egan, a physics professor at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland for nearly two decades, died of heart failure Thursday at Maria Health Care Center at Villa Assumpta, the motherhouse of her order, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, in Woodbrook. She was 89.

Sister Helen Teresa spent 56 years in the classroom, from her first assignment teaching fifth-grade boys at a Catholic school in Massachusetts in 1934 until her last post as a computer coordinator at St. Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown, from which she retired in 1990.

Most of her career was dedicated to teaching math and science. Colleagues said even the most complicated physics or chemistry problems came easily to Sister Helen Teresa, but she always showed patience with students who didn't share her aptitude for the subject.

"She was just as good with the slower students as the quick ones," said Sister M. Augustine Dowling, a math professor at the College of Notre Dame, where Sister Helen Teresa taught science courses from 1959 to 1976 and served as chairwoman of the physics department.

She obtained five National Science Foundation grants in the 1960s to help science teachers at Georgetown University, Dartmouth College, the University of Colorado and Oregon State University better prepare for the classroom.

During the 1970s, she spent summers at Meharry Medical College, a historically black institution in Nashville, Tenn., where she tutored prospective students who were interested in medical careers but needed to strengthen their math and science skills.

Born in Baltimore, she attended the old St. Paul parochial school in East Baltimore and graduated from the Institute of Notre Dame in East Baltimore in 1930. After high school, she worked for two years as a clerk at a local manufacturing company before deciding to become a nun.

In 1932, she entered the School Sisters of Notre Dame and professed her vows in 1934. Her religious name was Sister Mary Avila, but she went by Sister Helen Teresa after nuns were permitted in the late 1960s to resume using their given names.

Sister Helen Teresa earned a bachelor's degree in math and chemistry from the College of Notre Dame in 1944. In 1955, she earned a master's degree in science from Catholic University in Washington.

She began her teaching career in 1934 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Roxbury, Mass. She returned to Maryland in 1937 and taught at St. Mary of the Assumption in Govans until 1944, then at the old St. John High School in Westminster until 1959, when she started teaching college courses.

After leaving the College of Notre Dame, she taught physics and chemistry at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore from 1976 to 1988. She worked at St. Maria Goretti in Hagerstown from 1988 to 1990.

During the 1990s, Sister Helen Teresa held several positions at Villa Assumpta, including helping integrate computers into the finance office. After retiring from teaching, she also traveled and turned her attention to a favorite pastime, classical music and opera, said Sister Caroleen Baummer, administrator of pastoral services at Villa Assumpta.

A Mass of Resurrection was offered yesterday at Villa Assumpta.

Sister Helen Teresa is survived by a sister, Annette Kelly of Baltimore, and several nieces and nephews.

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