Sister Virgina Geiger, 88, professor at College of Notre Dame, author

February 01, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Sister Virgina Geiger, who taught metaphysics and philosophy for more than 60 years at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and researched the offspring of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, died of congestive heart failure Wednesday at her order's motherhouse in the Woodbrook section of Baltimore County. She was 88.

Born Ruth Anne Geiger in Irvington, N.J., she was a graduate of Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth, N.J. She entered the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Baltimore in 1933, and earned a history degree from the College of Notre Dame and a doctorate in philosophy and history from Catholic University of America in Washington. She did postdoctoral work on Charles Carroll of Carrollton at Georgetown University, Fairfield University and the University of Arizona.

In a 1998 Sun interview, she recalled that as a young nun, she was a "perfect flop" as an elementary school teacher. She also recalled that in 1938, when she began teaching at the college, 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 8 to 1. Students who missed Mass were "jugged" -- confined to campus. No student had a car.

Sister Virgina was a member of the philosophy department at the North Baltimore college until 2001, and was considered one of the school's most esteemed faculty members.

"Virgina asked for little and gave much," said Sister Kathleen Feeley, the college's former president who is now teaching in Ghana. "She habitually found time for others in the midst of a busy academic life. She had so many friends because she was a friend one could count on."

"She was pristine goodness," said Stephen J. Vicchio, a fellow faculty member and friend. "In 1986 I did a survey of alumnae and asked for their favorite teacher. Of the 2,400 responses, 800 said Sister Virgina."

Patricia Knott Smyth of Baltimore said, "I found her to be a brilliant, humble, inspiring woman. She never forgot anyone's name or anyone's interests. She was a legend. I never heard a person say a negative thing about her. I first knew her when I came to the college as a student, and she stayed the same humble person all the years I knew her."

In addition to her studies in philosophy, Sister Virgina had an interest in the Carroll family of Maryland. She wrote two books, Daniel Carroll: A Framer of the Constitution, published in 1943 and Daniel Carroll: One Man and His Descendants, 1730-1987 in 1979. She also contributed articles to scholarly publications.

"If it hadn't been for all her research, I could never have found all the Carroll cousins. She was a very inclusive person," said Mary Carroll Potter, a descendant of Charles Carroll who lives Alexandria, Va. "She didn't have the Internet, and she did all research by writing highly persuasive letters."

In 1976, Sister Virgina brought more than 50 historians and philosophers to her campus for "Conversations with Humanists: Philosophical Views of the Declaration of Independence," a well-received series of talks.

Among her many honors were the Sears-Roebuck Foundation Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership Award, the Freedom Foundation's American Patriots Medal and her college's President's Medal. The College of Notre Dame also established a Geiger scholarship, Geiger Chair in philosophy, and an annual Geiger lecture on ethics and society.

She served on the Maryland Humanities Council Advisory Board and was a member of the Maryland Historical Society and the Maryland Genealogical Association.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 12:15 p.m. March 2 at the Marikle Memorial Chapel of the Annunciation, 4701 N. Charles St.

Survivors include her sister, Sister Eugene Marie Geiger of Baltimore; and nieces and nephews.

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