Sister Celine Arnold, 98, prioress, mentor at monastery in Towson who backed reform

March 18, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Sister Celine Arnold, a Carmelite nun for 76 years and prioress -- the mother superior -- at her order's monastery on Dulaney Valley Road in Towson during an era of reforms in the Roman Catholic Church resulting from the Vatican II council, died of respiratory and heart failure there Thursday. She was 98.

Born Helen Agnes Arnold in Taneytown, Sister Celine entered the cloistered community in Baltimore in 1926 after graduating from Trinity College in Washington with a chemistry degree. She took her final vows in 1931.

As part of the oldest Carmelite community in the country -- the Baltimore community, formerly at Caroline and Biddle streets, dates to 1790 -- Sister Celine was prioress for 15 of the years between 1949 and 1973, and encouraged the changing relationship between the cloister and the outside world after Vatican II in the early 1960s.

"Her freedom and flexibility was astounding, really. It characterized her in many ways," said Sister Constance FitzGerald, now prioress there.

Sister Celine encouraged an "openness and presence" in the community, which lived a more separate and secluded existence before Vatican II, Sister Constance said.

Sister Celine was a mentor for Roman Catholic nuns, one who could pass along the tradition of the community. At her death, she was the oldest of the 18 nuns in the community.

"I think as she grew old, she was our heart," Sister Constance said.

A private woman, Sister Celine was influenced and motivated by the words of 19th-century French Carmelite nun St. Therese of Lisieux, who spoke of love and its relationship to vocation, said Sister Constance.

She also remained close to her family, and it was not uncommon for generations of her nieces and nephews to visit her at the monastery; there is a recent picture of Sister Celine with a new great-great-niece on her lap, Sister Constance said.

Sister Celine's "quiet, simple presence" drew others to her, she said. "It's as if she was an oasis of peace."

A vigil service will be held at the monastery, 1318 Dulaney Valley Road, at 8 p.m. today, and a Mass of Christian burial will be offered there at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

She is survived by a sister-in-law, Lottie Arnold of Taneytown, and three generations of nieces and nephews.

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