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.