If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Award For Volunteer Service To The American Chemical Society

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry

by Linda R. Raber
February 16, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 7

Credit: Courtesy of Mary Virginia Orna
Credit: Courtesy of Mary Virginia Orna

Sponsored by ACS

Sister Mary Virginia Orna is an Ursuline nun living in a religious community of sisters whose motto is "Serviam," Latin for "I will serve." She laughingly tells C&EN, "Sitting in our common computer room right above my head is a sign that says, 'God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now, I am so far behind that I think I will never die.' "

Orna is being honored for significant contributions to the goals and objectives of ACS. The award will recognize her "unstinting service to the society, its council and committees, the Division of Chemical Education and the Division of the History of Chemistry, her students and colleagues, and humanity."

Orna, 74, is a professor of chemistry at the College of New Rochelle, in New York. She has lectured and published widely in the areas of color chemistry and archaeological chemistry; she has addressed 115 ACS local sections and 50 high schools, as well as having presented 15 named lectureships. In addition, she has led workshops for more than 400 high school teachers.

She is active in several ACS divisions, having served as chair of the Division of the History of Chemistry and of the Division of Chemical Education. She is currently serving as councilor for the Division of the History of Chemistry. Orna has also served on various ACS national committees, including the Committee on Committees, the Committee on Nominations & Elections, and the Divisional Activities Committee. She currently is serving on the Council Policy Committee.

Of her service, one colleague says, "She is the ideal member to have on a committee. You assign her a task, and she does the homework, follows up, and stays with it until you call her off. Like a bulldog!"

Given the level of her involvement, it would be easy to conclude that many of her contributions must have been superficial. Surely, even an extraordinarily gifted and dedicated individual would not be able to sustain that level of unselfish service to the profession. Two distinguished editors of chemical publications supporting Orna's nomination bear witness: "She has done it all—and to a quality standard unmatched by anyone we have known."

Orna received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Chestnut Hill College, in Philadelphia, followed by M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry and analytical chemistry, respectively, from Fordham University. She received a master's degree in religious education from Catholic University of America in 1967.

Orna was a 1984 recipient of the Chemical Manufacturers Association's Catalyst Award for excellence in college chemistry teaching, ACS's 1989 George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the 1989 Council for the Advancement & Support of Education New York State Professor of the Year & National Gold Medalist Award, a 1989 Merck Innovation Award, and the 1996 James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry. She was a Fulbright Fellow in Israel (1994–95), where she lectured at Hebrew University, Weizmann Institute of Science, and Shenkar College of Textile Technology. She received the New England Association of Chemistry Teachers Timm Award in 2001.

Reflecting on her selection for the award, Orna tells C&EN, "I feel that my communities complement one another in such a way as to make an integral whole. And since this is one of the main purposes of life, to walk before the Lord as a whole (integral) person, brought about and supported by so many of my ACS friends and colleagues, this award means all the world to me. I am so grateful to everyone with whom I have worked; each one participates in this award."

Orna will present the award lecture at the ChemLuminary Award celebration at the fall ACS national meeting in Washington, D.C.


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.