Sister Mary Alice

Age 67: Nun and teacher was namesake of candy company and could make kids 'walk straight with a smile or a look.'

June 17, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN REPORTER

Sister Mary Alice Ashton, a nun and teacher whose name was combined with that of her sister to christen Baltimore's Mary Sue candies in 1948, died Thursday in Elko, Nev.

Family members said a niece was driving her to Baltimore when she suffered an apparent heart attack. She was 67 and was returning to a new teaching assignment here.

Mary Alice Sterling Ashton was born in Baltimore and raised on St. George's Road in Roland Park. She was a 1958 Mount St. Agnes High School graduate who earned a degree at Neumann College and a master's degree at Towson University.

She was the daughter of Dr. Susanne Sterling Ashton, a Union Memorial Hospital obstetrician and Robert J. Ashton, a handicapper who owned thoroughbred horses.

In the 1940s, partners Harry Gerwig and Samuel "Sacha" Spector founded a candy business. Mr. Gerwig, who had no offspring, selected the names of two Ashton children to form Mary Sue Candies. The Ashtons, Gerwigs and Spectors were family friends.

The Southwest Baltimore firm made foil-wrapped Easter eggs and butter creams named after Sister Mary Alice and her sister, Susanne Sterling Ashton, who is a member of the Sisters of Mercy.

The candy was promoted on radio and television via a jingle that used a Gilbert and Sullivan tune.

She taught at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parochial School near Patterson Park in East Baltimore and at the Rosewood Center in Owings Mills before deciding to join the Franciscan Sisters of Philadelphia in 1965.

For some years she used the name Sister Robert Ann, but she later resumed the use of her baptismal name, Mary Alice.

"She was fun-loving and embraced life to the fullest," said her sister, Sister Susanne, a retired physician who resides in Elkridge.

"She loved teaching the poor and the kids who were always in trouble. She could make them walk straight with a smile or a look."

After serving in South Carolina, Delaware and Florida parochial schools, she taught at St. Anthony Parochial School in Gardenville, St. Joseph School in Fullerton and St. Peter Claver near Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore.

Her last assignment, which lasted nearly a decade, was in Oakland, Calif. She taught in schools in impoverished neighborhoods and enjoyed the challenge.

"She was able to give her students confidence," Sister Susanne said. "She also taught them the discipline to go on with their lives. But with that discipline, she exhibited the fun of life."

At her death, she was returning to Baltimore to take a semiretired teaching position at the Catholic High School of Baltimore on Edison Highway.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, 4414 Frankford Ave.

In addition to her sister, survivors include two brothers, William Ashton of Columbia, S.C., and Peter Ashton of Elkridge; two stepbrothers, Robert Lundquist and Phillip Lundquist, both of Towson; and nieces and nephews. A brother, Robert S. Ashton, died in 2004.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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