Sister Mary Agatho, 100, high school science teacher

May 12, 2003

Sister Mary Agatho Ford, who was chairwoman of the science department at the Institute of Notre Dame on Aisquith Street for many years, died Wednesday of heart failure at Maria Health Care Center at Villa Assumpta in Baltimore County. She was 100.

Born Alice Virginia Ford in Missoula, Mont., she was the youngest of four daughters and a son. Her father was an Army officer and the family lived in Minnesota, Kansas, Kentucky, Washington, Colorado and Maryland.

On her 100th birthday, which she celebrated with family and friends Feb. 3, Sister Agatho told a Sun reporter that she rode horseback to a one-room schoolhouse in Topeka, Kan. "There were four of us on the horse, including the teacher," she said.

Upon her father's retirement from the military, the family settled in Hyattsville. After a brief stint as a secretary with the U.S. Postal Service, where she earned $1,400 a year, she entered into candidature in 1921 with the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Although her mother warned her that she wouldn't like life in a convent, she professed her vows in 1925.

She graduated from Holy Angels Institute at Fort Lee, N.J., and earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Fordham University in New York. She studied chemistry, Latin, math and education administration.

During her career, she taught science and math at the College of Notre Dame and later spent 33 years teaching high school girls at the Institute of Notre Dame, where she created new classes in physics and nuclear science. She received numerous federal grants for science teachers during the 1960s space race with the Soviet Union.

Sister Caroleen Baummer, administrator of pastoral services at Villa Assumpta, said that Sister Agatho decided early in her career that she wanted to work with teen-agers. "She had the opportunity to get her doctorate degree, but she thought she could exert more influence on students at the high school level than the college level," Sister Caroleen said. "She was absolutely brilliant."

After her retirement from teaching in 1981, Sister Agatho traveled to the former Soviet Union with her sister. She also took up oil painting, creating landscapes - some of which were sold during the School Sisters of Notre Dame's annual Christmas fund-raiser.

Services were held Saturday.

She is survived by nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

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