Sister Kathleen Kirsch, SSJ, formerly SisterMary Leo, 93, of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania, died on March 25, 2021. Sister Kathleen was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, on August 2, 1927, the daughter of the late Leo and Adelaide (Miller) Kirsch. She graduated from Villa Maria Academy, Erie, PA, in 1945 and continued her education at Villa Maria College, graduating magna cum laude in 1949 with a Bachelor of Arts in Latin. She furthered her education at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where she received a Master’s degree in social work in 1956.
She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania from Holy Rosary Parish in Erie, PA, on February 2, 1949. She professed her final vows on August 15, 1954. She died during the 73rd year of her religious life.
Sister Kathleen was attracted to religious life by the example of the sisters who taught her at Holy Rosary School and Villa Maria Academy. In fourth grade, she thought it would be “fun” to be a nun. By seventh grade, she started to realize the religious meaning of vocation and began to attend daily Mass. Five of her Villa Maria Academy classmates entered the Sisters of St. Joseph before she did, and another followed her.
Sister Kathleen ministered in social work for nearly 50 years. It’s an appropriate coincidence that she died during Social Work Month, a time to celebrate this great profession. Social workers are essential to community well-being and affect positive change for those they serve. Sister Kathleen demonstrated this throughout her ministry career, which also included education.
Sister Kathleen taught at Villa Maria Academy, Erie; St. Agatha High School in Meadville; and St. Francis High School in Clearfield, PA. She ministered for Catholic Charities in Erie, PA as a caseworker and DuBois, PA as an area supervisor. She later worked at Saint Vincent Health Center as a community mental health counselor and a home care team leader. She ministered with the International Institute of Erie as an immigration counselor and then served as a volunteer at Saint Vincent Health Center in the endoscopy unit until her retirement.
In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by her brother, Howard, her sister, Nancy Kirsch Shelly, and a nephew, Mark Shelly. She is survived by her sister-in-law, Agnes Kirsch; her brother-in-law, Stan Shelly; her beloved nieces and nephews, Brian, Kevin, and Matthew Kirsch and Debra Kirsch Lynch; and Keith and Kathleen Shelly. Survivors also include several grandnieces, grandnephews, and cousins. She is also survived by her religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there will be no calling hours. A Mass of Christian Burial will be live-streamed on Monday at 4:30 p.m. on the Sisters of
St. Joseph Facebook page and the SSJ Erie YouTube channel. Interment will be at Calvary Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania, 5031 West Ridge Road, Erie, PA, 16506-1249, or online. The Kloecker Funeral Home, Erie, is handling arrangements.
Thinking of you, Kathleen, on the anniversary of your passing into Heaven. Beautiful VMA and SSJA memories with you.
I will never forget all the times I saw Sr. Kathleen pushing wheelchairs, that were taller than her, in the lobby and down the hallways at St. Vincent Hospital. It was so funny, but so endearing as well. Anyway, whenever I would see her without a patient in her wheelchair, we would stop for a second and talk. Maybe I gravitated towards her because of our common first names or maybe it was because of all the joy that just radiated from her heart. I actually nicknamed her Smiley Face. Just a beautiful ray of sunshine. She was sent from Heaven for all of us, so that the light of the Lord that shined so brightly thru her, would help lead us Home. Thank you God for blessing us with this beautiful angel. I will never forget my beloved Smiley Face.
Sr. Kathleen handled my adoption (Sr. Mary Leo back then). I remember her being very kind, and smiling at us while she talked to our parents. Always would ask us questions also, so we would feel included. So sorry to hear of her passing – prayers for her family and loved ones. Carla (Kozar) McElroy
Sr. Kathleen handled my adoption (Sr. Mary Leo back then). I recall going back to see her once a year or so. She was very kind, and always smiled at us while talking to our parents. Carla (Kozar) McElroy
Sr. Kathleen (Sr Mary Leo at the time), handled mine and my sister’s adoptions. We went back to visit every year or so when I was very young. What I do remember is her being very kind, and smiling at us while she talked to our parents. So sorry to hear of her passing. Prayers for her family and loved ones. Carla (Kozar) McElroy
Sister Kathleen you were a blessing sent from God to me, my guardian Angel!!!.. You were always there for me through out my entire life , from at least since I 8yrs old!!!.. You guided me through a lot of trouble times, and also shared in all of my joys and accomplishments!!!..You always seemed to know when I needed to speak with you and somehow you called me!!!.. I was so very blessed to have you in my life, and you will certainly be missed greatly, but I know that God wanted you home with him, because you certainly were a faithful servant to him!!!.. Rest In Peace now my dear friend and know that you are loved and will always be in my heart and thoughts!!!!..Please watch over me from heaven, I know you will, and I will remember your famous words to me” Be kind to yourself “…Enjoy the rewards you have earned during your life time on this earth, be finally at rest and at peace, Amen!!!.❤️🙏
God speed you to the angels, Sister Kathleen…say hello to your Uncle Glen who is there to welcome you on his birthday. Thank you for all your years of devoted unselfish dedication.
Darla KIrsch Farrell & Family
Another of my beloved sisters have entered the kingdom of God! Although I am saddened by this loss I celebrate her!
Here are three stories of Kathleen that I will never forget. The first: when we were young sisters we often had these large community discussions, community meetings (post-Vatican II) and some of us took to referring to Kathleen as E.F. Hutton…after a popular TV commercial of the time about the EF Hutton investment company…Their famous oft-quoted line was, “When EF Hutton speaks, everyone listens” and they had these great scenes of noise and hubbub that came to an instant silence. Which is exactly what happened whenever Kathleen stepped to the microphone. All the noise and hustle and bustle hushed because everyone wanted to hear what she had to say.
Secondly, when my Aunt attended the University of Iowa for her PhD, she told me one day after she returned to Erie that throughout her years in Iowa and also her time at John Carroll in Cleveland for her masters degree she had met a lot of smart, smart people, but despite all their intelligence and knowledge she noted, “I never met anyone that had the brain or the intelligence that was better than Kathleen’s.”
And third, every time I’ve heard Dr. Anthony Faucci throughout the last year, there was a nagging familiarity about him that I just couldn’t name..until about a month ago. It suddenly came to me that he was just like Kathleen…the ability to explain complex ideas in simple language for all of us to understand, the seemingly total lack of self-promotion and ego, and even the little smile and shrug when he had to express an opposing idea, “Well, that’s just how I see it. I follow the science/what I know.” Not to mention their small stature which, ironically, enabled them to blend into the background, as if they were “just one of the crowd”–