July 18, 1910 – September 12, 1997
“What I appreciate most in my Dominican life is having been able to join every day in the Church’s offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass, the official prayer of the Church. I appreciate also the emphasis on study and teaching in the Dominican Order, and the opportunities I have had to do both. I give thanks to God for my vocation and for the loving support of my family, friends, and my Sisters in the Community.”
St. James in his epistle teaches us: “If a person is without fault in speech, she is a woman in the fullest sense because she can control her entire body (3:3).” Anyone who knew Sister Virgil can attest to the fact that she never offended in word! This was not, however, her only virtue. There were many others. She radiated a quiet, gentle, peace-loving presence which in a sense cloaked her assiduous use of her brilliant mind in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.
This remarkable woman, born in Grand Rapids on July 18, 1910, was the first child of a family of four girls and two boys born to Frances Sharpe and Henry Ghering. She received the sacred waters of baptism at St. Andrew Cathedral on August 7, 1910, and was given the name of Helen Beatrice; she went by the name of Beatrice. Her home was a most loving and Christian one and from the time of Beatrice’s baptism, her father desired the sacrament of baptism. It was not until his deathbed, however, that Sister Virgil’s dear mother helped to actualize his ardent desire. By the time of her confirmation in 1919, the Gherings were members of St. Alphonsus Parish, and it was from this parish that Sister Virgil entered our Congregation.
Beatrice’s education which began at Coit School was continued at St. Alphonsus, Girls’ Catholic Central, and Sacred Heart College (the forerunner of Aquinas College). In her years in Catholic schools, she was taught by our Sisters. Thus, it was no surprise that in 1929 after one year of college, she made her decision to become a Grand Rapids Dominican.
Her entrance at Marywood was on September 8, 1929, when she joined a large class of postulants with Sister Jerome Smithers. On March 11, 1930, she was clothed in St. Dominic’s white habit, and given the name of Sister Virgil of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Mother Eveline Mackey received her first profession of vows on August 30, 1932. She made her final profession on August 30, 1938 to Mother Euphrasia Sullivan.
Mission life for Sister Virgil began as a second year novice at Holy Family, Saginaw to teach junior high school. After profession her teaching was on the high school level at Marinette, Wisconsin; Catholic Central, Grand Rapids; St. Joseph, Bay City; East Tawas; Beal City; Marywood Academy; and Maple Grove, where she taught science, mathematics, and occasionally Latin, German, and religion. In 1949 she joined the science department at Aquinas College and taught chemistry. From 1959-63 she chaired the Department of Physical Sciences. Sister Virgil’s academic pursuits were untiring, and her teaching was interspersed with study. Summers and weekends found her deeply involved in study and research. From 1934-1937 she was given time off to study at Central University in Mt. Pleasant and in 1957 she received a Fellowship to Fordham where she remained two years.
In 1963 Sister Virgil began what was to be a very distinctive role in her scientific career. She was privileged to enroll at the famous Institutum Divi Thomae in Cincinnati, Ohio, (which became in 1971, St. Thomas Institute of Advanced Studies). For the next twenty-five years she was a vital part of this institution for the promotion of advanced studies and research in science. The Institute accepted only a limited number of scholars. Thus, it was a distinctive honor for Sister Virgil to receive her Ph.D. in chemistry and bio-chemistry in 1966. She continued as a faculty member and head librarian until 1988.
Sister Virgil’s meticulous, careful, patient, and disciplined research gained her considerable recognition for her achievements and accomplishments. Hers was presumably the first clue to the bio-chemistry of cancer. She became a member and was honored by many scientific societies and institutes. One of her most notable recognitions was a medal presented in 1972 by the International Who’s Who in Community Service for distinguished service.
In 1988 Sister Virgil’s residence became Marywood where participation in the liturgical functions was very important to her. She devoted her time to tasks for the common good (including the role of coordinator of Common Cause, Ohio). Her kindness to less physically able Sisters was especially inspirational. She was an opera fan, and it would be most unusual if she would have missed an opportunity to listen to the Metropolitan Opera. Always an avid reader, she was very selective in her reading materials. Sister Virgil never ceased being a scholar.
Our Dominican Order is recognized for its saints and scholars. May Sister Virgil, for whom prayer to the Holy Spirit was her source of inspiration and strength, now take her rightful place in both groups. We pray that the joys and glories of Christ’s resurrection may be her’s. May she rest in God’s eternal love, peace and beauty. ALLELUIA!
Sister Virgil is survived by her sister, Mary (Mrs. Bernard Hamel) of Wyoming, MI; her sister, Ethel Ghering; brother, Frank, and sister-in-law, Mrs. Robert Ghering, all of Grand Rapids; nieces, nephews and many friends.
Entered eternal life on September 12, 1997 at the age of 87 after 67 years of religious life
We commend Sister Virgil to your prayers.
Sister Virgil at the Dive Thomas Institute Lab
Sister Virgil in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1968