Sister Anna Josephine Bennis, 90, an educator in Philadelphia-area schools for 50 years, died of heart failure Nov. 22 at St. Joseph Villa, a retirement residence in Flourtown for the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Sister Anna Josephine taught in elementary schools in Philadelphia and Wilmington for 13 years before becoming a teacher and an administrator in Philadelphia Archdiocese high schools.
In 1973, she became the first female high school principal in the archdiocese, at Archbishop Prendergast High School in Drexel Hill. She inspired her faculty to strive for excellence, said Alice Guerin-Cronin, a former teacher at Prendergast. "God gave Sister as a gift to the world," Guerin-Cronin said.
In 1978, Sister Anna Josephine supervised the building of a new athletic facility at Prendergast after fire destroyed the gymnasium. That year she was named one of the most effective principals in the United States by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Before becoming principal, Sister Anna Josephine taught English and religion at John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls' High School in Philadelphia from 1951 to 1955; led the English department and was activities director at West Philadelphia Catholic High School for Girls for nine years; directed activities and the English department at Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia for six years; then was vice principal and summer school principal at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Springfield, Delaware County, from 1970 to 1973.
From 1980 until retiring in 1985, she coordinated continuing-education programs for the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Sister Anna Josephine grew up in Germantown as Bernadette Bennis. She entered the Convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Philadelphia after graduating from Hallahan in 1935. She earned a bachelor's degree from Chestnut Hill College and a master's degree in English from Columbia University. For 25 years she taught Saturday English classes at Chestnut Hill to nuns earning bachelor's degrees.
Sister Anna Josephine often taught creative writing in the high schools where she was assigned and advised the newspaper and literary magazine staffs. She illustrated and wrote verses for greeting cards that the recipients cherished, said a friend, Sister Rita Michael Scully. Her handmade Christmas cards for this year were ready to be mailed, Sister Rita said.
When asked how she would like to be remembered, Sister Anna Josephine wrote:
"I hope to take and leave these five senses for here and hereafter: Love, Prayer, Humor, Beauty, People. These treasures fly on my mystical carpet between heaven and earth."
She is survived by a sister, Madeleine Degnan, and nieces and nephews.
A Funeral Mass was said Nov. 27 at St. Joseph Villa in Flourtown.