Sister Mary Elaine

Although She Once Thought It Unlikely She Would Become A Nun, She Excelled In Her Order As A Teacher And Principal

August 24, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Sister Mary Elaine Costello, a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy and a retired educator and administrator, died Wednesday of heart disease at The Villa, her order's retirement home in the Woodbrook neighborhood of Baltimore County. She was 96.

Mary Elizabeth Costello was born in Washington, and after the death of her mother, was sent by her father to Mount St. Agnes in Mount Washington, where she attended elementary and high school.

"There, her widowed father could count on her aunt, Sister Loretta Costello, author of "The Sisters of Mercy of Maryland 1855-1930," to keep an eye on his daughter," said Sister Augusta Reilly, a member of the Sisters of Mercy and a retired educator.

"Sister Elaine said she chafed under Loretta's vigilance because she was always watching her," said Sister Augusta, with a laugh.

"She described herself as the last one you would expect to become a nun, but at the same time, said she heard God whispering in her ear," said Sister Augusta, also a longtime friend.

In 1931, she entered the Sisters of Mercy and professed her vows three years later and took the religious name of Sister Elaine.

She earned a bachelor's degree in education from the old Mount St. Agnes College and a master's degree in administration from Loyola College.

Sister Elaine began teaching in 1934 at St. Gregory parochial school, and in 1937 joined the faculty of St. James parochial school in Hopewell, Va., where she taught until 1943.

Sister Elaine Sebera, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, is principal of a parochial school in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Her father, Albert Sebera, who had been a student of Sister's Elaine's at the Hopewell, Va., parochial school, never forgot what an impression she had made on him as a seventh-grader.

"He loved her and vowed that his first daughter would be named after her. He kept his word and named me Catherine Elaine, but I've always gone by my middle name in honor of Sister Elaine Costello," she said.

"My dad shared many fond school memories of Sister Elaine throughout my life. He loved her dearly," she said. "My dad died on May 18, 2003, Sister Elaine's 90th birthday."

She taught at Mount St. Agnes for a year before her appointment in 1944 as principal of Immaculate Conception parochial school in Atlanta. In 1948, she returned to Baltimore and taught for a year at St. Cecilia parochial school in Walbrook.

Sister Elaine was principal of Mount Washington Country School from 1949 to 1953, when she joined the faculty of St. Peter parochial school near Union Square, where she was both principal and teacher.

"Then for four years, 1959 to 1963, she fulfilled a childhood dream of ministering to parentless children, first at St. Vincent's Orphanage in Baltimore, and then at Villa Maria in Timonium, where she was religious superior and program administrator," said Sister Augusta.

In 1963, Sister Elaine was sent to Washington, where she was principal of several parochial schools.

One of her favorite memories from those years was a presidential visit by Lyndon B. Johnson to Holy Trinity parochial school when she was principal there from 1966 to 1969.

"She also recalled that during the visit to the sisters and their seventh- and eighth-grade students, they heard Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos speak and that they were in newspapers all over the country the next day," Sister Augusta said.

Sister Christopher Bourke, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, was also an educator.

"Her happy disposition and her love of children were contagious in the schools she administered and made working with her a pleasure as well as a unique learning experience," she said. "She really was a happy-go-lucky person."

From 1979 to 1980, Sister Elaine studied gerontology at the University of Maryland, and from 1980 to 1981, was an aide at the Washington Archdiocese Day Center for the Elderly in Potomac.

In 1981, she was appointed administrator of The Villa, a position she held until 1985, when she took a job with Catholic Charities. From 1986 to 1998, she volunteered at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium.

In 1989, she retired to The Villa where she lived until her death.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Saturday for Sister Elaine in the chapel at The Villa.

She is survived by many nieces and nephews.

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