Regina Soria, 95, professor at College of Notre Dame


Regina Soria, a retired College of Notre Dame of Maryland professor and author who co-founded a cultural organization, died of a stroke June 6 in her native Rome, where she had lived for the past three years. The former Tuscany-Canterbury resident was 95.

Born Regina Rosa Enrica Levi, she earned a doctorate in literature at the University of Rome in 1933 and a certificate from the University of London the same year. She wrote her dissertation on writer John Galsworthy.

"My husband and I left around the time of Dunkirk, not because of the war, but for racial reasons. Being Jews, we couldn't feel free," she told a reporter for the Messenger weekly neighborhood newspaper in 1981.

She moved to the U.S. in 1940 and joined the college's faculty in 1942, teaching Italian.

She was befriended by a School Sisters of Notre Dame nun, Sister Dominic, who was from Lucca, Italy, and a dean at the college.

"She practically forced every girl with an Italian surname to take my classes," Dr. Soria recalled in the 1981 article. She was a professor and modern languages department chair until her 1976 retirement but taught occasionally until 1985.

"She was an exciting teacher and lecturer," said Mildred Otenasek, a friend and former faculty member. "She was a brilliant, phenomenal teacher, so learned."

A 1979 article in The Sun described her as a "a sturdy woman with a big smile, a living room populated principally with books and overstuffed furniture, a dedication to Italy and Italian culture, and a husky voice that gets a lot of exercise."

Dr. Soria lived for many years in Northwood and opened her home - and kitchen - to her students.

"It was the early 1950s, and that trip to Dr. Soria's home was the first time I had ever tasted lasagna," said Sandra Watson Butzow, a former student. "She was always asking us, 'Why haven't you been to the symphony or the museum?'"

In 1955, Dr. Soria co-founded Circolo Culturale Italiano di Baltimora to provide a forum for Italian speakers to discuss cultural issues. She was also active with Girls Town of Italy, a home for orphans in Rome.

In 1979, she organized "The Marble Door," a conference about the influence of Italians in early Baltimore. In it, she discussed Enrico Causici, sculptor of the George Washington statue atop Baltimore's monument to the first president in Mount Vernon Place. She said she wanted the lectures to offset the negative image of Italians brought by The Godfather novel and films.

Stories in The Sun noted that Dr. Soria was a scholar of the connections between Italian and American art and artists.

Her books include American Artists of Italian Heritage, 1776-1945; Dictionary of Nineteenth Century American Artists in Italy; Elihu Vedder: American Visionary Artist in Rome; and Distant Brothers: The Contribution of the Italian Immigrant Artist to the American Artistic Identity.

In the 1990s, her service to Notre Dame was recognized through an endowed scholarship established through $100,000 in donations from friends and former students. The Regina Soria scholarship is awarded each year to a Notre Dame student interested "in pursuing study in one of the fields of Italian heritage, including language, literature, art or music."

Dr. Soria had been a member of the A.D. Emmart Award Committee, a group that gives an annual award for writing in the humanities. She also wrote numerous letters to The Sun.

Her husband of 39 years, Dino Charles Philip Soria, an engineer, died in 1975.

Plans for a funeral service are incomplete.

Survivors include a sister in Rome, Angela Bianchini, a writer and former director of the Italian program at Sarah Lawrence College.

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