Sister Mary Coralie Ullrich

Longtime College of Notre Dame of Maryland educator participated in landmark Alzheimer's study

May 30, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Sister Mary Coralie Ullrich, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame whose career at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland spanned half-a-century, died May 23 of colon cancer at Villa Assumpta, her order's Woodbrook motherhouse.

She was 96.

Helen Marie Ullrich, whose father owned Crescent Oil Co. and whose mother was a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in the 2900 block of Riggs Ave.

After graduating from Notre Dame Preparatory School in 1931, she enrolled at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1935 in chemistry. In 1950, she earned a master's degree in biology from the Catholic University of America in Washington.

She entered the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1935, and two years later, professed her vows, taking the religious name of Mary Coralie.

Sister Mary Coralie began her teaching career in the late 1930s and, until the mid-1950s, was a secondary teacher at high schools in Cumberland, Bryantown, Hagerstown and Frederick.

In 1956, she joined the College of Notre Dame of Maryland as assistant dean of students, and taught biology at the North Baltimore college from 1965 to 1977, when she was appointed assistant professor.

After retiring from active teaching in 1993, when she turned 80, she continued working at the college for the next nine years as special assistant to the registrar.

Sister Mary Coralie volunteered as an assistant in graduate studies at the college until 2007, when she retired because of failing health.

"Sister Mary Coralie was well-loved, a conscientious teacher, and just wonderful with students. She was very pleasant, warm and friendly and very easygoing," said Sister Bernice Feilinger, a fellow member of her order and former dean of students at the college.

"She was a person who was always willing to help anyone. She continued volunteering at the college long after she retired," recalled Sister Bernice. "She had been very active in the Charismatic Movement and was a person of great joy."

Dr. Robert B. Kroopnick, a Baltimore internist, had been a student of Sister Mary Coralie.

"It was the summer of 1966, and I was studying genetics with her," said Dr. Kroopnick. "She later wrote a letter that I think got me into medical school at SUNY-Buffalo. She helped a Jewish boy become a doctor."

Dr. Kroopnick said that for the last 44 years, Sister Mary Coralie had been "part of our family."

"She came for holidays and bar and bat mitzvahs," he said. "She was kind and sweet and what a nun or a person of the church should be. She was a great teacher and friend and helped me all through my life."

In the early 1990s, Sister Mary Coralie agreed to participate in a study of the causes of Alzheimer's disease that was being conducted by Dr. David A. Snowdon.

She was one of 30 from her order in Baltimore who participated in what was named the Nun Study, which was a long-term examination of the causes of Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Snowden released the result of his groundbreaking study in "Aging With Grace," which was published in 2001.

"I just thought it was a very interesting study, even when they said they were interested in studying my brain," Sister Mary Coralie told The Baltimore Sun in an interview at the time. "Even that was kind of exciting because I'd be able to contribute something to research to help humanity."

In an interview with the Towson Times in 2001, Sister Mary Coralie explained the intricacies of the study.

"They put us through all kinds of testing — lists of words for memory, things to show how alert you are," she said. "They also test your physical ability — how quickly can you open a door, walk, pick up something you drop."

Sister Marie Coralie was an "entertaining and informed conversationalist," said Sister Bernice.

She was an avid reader.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Thursday.

Surviving are several nieces and nephews.

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