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Obituary: Benedictine Sister Anselma Biskach, 99, led community through Vatican II

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Staff reporter

 

RIDGELY, Md. – Benedictine Sister Anselma Biskach, a former educator in the Diocese of Wilmington and congregational leader, died Jan. 8 at St. Gertrude Monastery. She would have celebrated her 100th birthday at the end of March.

Born Sophie Elizabeth Biskach in Baltimore in 1914, Sister Anselma moved to the Eastern Shore when she was 5, attending schools in Dorchester County. She entered the Benedictine Sisters of Ridgely in 1931 and enjoyed a long career in education. In the Diocese of Wilmington, she taught at St. Elizabeth Elementary School in 1933-34 and 1943-50, Sacred Heart School from 1934-43 and St. Elizabeth High School from 1950-56. She was also principal of St. Elizabeth Elementary from 1943-50.

She left St. Elizabeth to become prioress of the Benedictine Sisters, elected at the age of 43, and served in that position for 12 years.

Sister Anselma Biskach, OSB

According to “A Love That Impels,” a history of the Benedictine Sisters of Ridgely by Sister Stephanie Campbell, Sister Anselma had little idea of what she would encounter as prioress during the Second Vatican Council.

“Little did she know the momentous role to which she would then be called: to lay down the foundations for the renewal of religious life called for by that Council, a call which would change profoundly the future course of religious life in the church,” Sister Stephanie wrote.

Religious communities during this period faced many challenges, Sister Stephanie wrote, including sisters seeking dispensations and the ambiguity of renewal following Vatican II. “That Mother Anselma was able to weather these troubled times herself as well as lead the community through them was a tribute to her stamina and vitality and, above all, to her deep faith in the power of prayer, especially the Divine Office.”

Also during her tenure, the sisters moved into new convents at Our Lady of Fatima in New Castle and St. Elizabeth in Wilmington and sent five sisters to open a school at St. Catherine of Siena near Prices Corner.

The Benedictines had begun an educational program for developmentally disabled children in 1955, and the new Benedictine School for Exceptional Children opened in 1959.

In addition, with one exception, whenever a sister died, Sister Anselma personally dressed her for burial, according to “A Love That Impels.”

After leaving office, Sister Anselma assumed several positions at the Benedictine School, including dorm mother, counselor, bookkeeper and payroll clerk. For many years, she also did the weekly grocery shopping for the community, getting to know everyone at the Food Lion.

Sister Anselma was predeceased by her parents, Louis and Elizabeth, and brothers Louis and Frank and their wives. She is survived by her Benedictine sisters and many nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be at St. Gertrude Monastery on Tuesday from 5-8 p.m., with the funeral Mass set for 10 a.m. Wednesday. Burial will be in the community cemetery. Donations in her memory can be made to the Benedictine Sisters’ Retirement Fund, 14259 Benedictine Lane, Ridgely, MD 21660.