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Sister Mary Alice Chineworth, former superior of the Oblate Ssters

Sister Mary Alice Chineworth, a former superior of the Oblate Sisters of Providence who helped secure philanthropic gifts to the order's schools, died of multiple organ failure June 21 at the Oblate Sisters' Baltimore County motherhouse. She was 99.

Born in Rock Island, Ill., she was the daughter of Alexander Chineworth, a shoe business owner who was the son of a former slave originally from Madagascar. Her mother, Victoria Schlicker, a telephone operator, was of German ancestry.

Her parents initially met in 1911 when her father placed a phone call and his future wife started a conversation with him.

"They met having no color reference," said a great-niece, Jeanette "Gigi" Metzger of Orlando, Fla. "Her father proposed marriage while they were riding a tandem bicycle."

While a student at St. Joseph School in Rock Island, she made a decision to embrace the religious life. She recalled that she was impressed by the charity of the nuns she encountered.

According to a 2004 article in The Baltimore Sun, she said that while a junior in high school, a counselor asked whether she had changed her mind about becoming a nun.

"She told Sister Mary Alice Chineworth she couldn't be accepted into the all-white order in her town, let alone any other order," said the article, which quoted Sister Mary Alice as saying, "'I was devastated."

She went on to say, "I always thought a sister is a sister is a sister. ... I had always been accepted at home and at school. I thought, 'Now what am I going to do?'"

She discovered there were three African-American religious orders and made applications to them. She visited Baltimore in 1936 and joined the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the oldest religious organization for black women in America.

She later described the experience of encountering what was then called St. Frances Academy on East Chase Street as "love at first sight."

"She was warm and accepting and had a peace about her that surpassed understanding," said her Ms. Metzger. "She was also charming and exuded a sincere gratefulness."

She earned a bachelor's degree in English from Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wis. and a master's degree and doctorate from the Catholic University of America.

Another great-niece, Victoria Baumgart of Fort Collins, Colo., said, "She was bright and down to earth. She was fun to be around and had an excellent sense of humor. Everything she did was faith-based."

Sister Mary Alice taught in schools administered by her order, including St. Frances Academy, founded by the first members of the Oblates in 1828. She also held teaching posts in Washington, D.C., Minnesota, Virginia and South Carolina.

In 1966, she became an administrator at Mount Providence Junior College on Gun Road in Halethorpe. She was its president from 1959 until the college closed in 1972. The school educated women in religious orders as well as lay students.

After that she remained in administration positions within her order. In 1989, she was named superior general and held the post until 1993.

Sister Mary Alice befriended Camille Cosby, the wife of comedian Bill Cosby. In the 1980s, Camille Cosby, who had been educated by the Oblate Sisters in Washington, D.C., donated $200,000 to St. Frances Academy. In 2005 she gave an additional $2 million to the school for scholarships.

"She was brilliant, funny, witty and personable," said another great-niece, Dr. Jacqueline Marie Junkins-Hopkins, a dermatologist in Bryn Mawr, Pa. "She was very well read and knowledgable about politics and worldly subjects."

"She was charismatic," said Ralph Moore, a friend with whom she worked on anniversary celebrations for her order. "Her smile could melt peoples' hearts."

In 1996 Sister Mary Alice began editing a publication, "Rise 'n' Shine: Catholic Education and the African-American Community." She was also a member of the National Black Sisters Conference.

Sister Mary Alice donated her body to science.

A memorial Mass will be held at noon July 16 at the Oblate Sisters Motherhouse, 701 Gun Road. The date corresponds to her 100th birthday.

Survivors include additional great-nieces and great-nephews.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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