Mary Frances Pikla, who helped transform an East Baltimore convent into a school for learning-disabled youngsters where she taught as a volunteer, died of cancer Sunday at her Perry Hall home.
Mrs. Pikla, 69, also volunteered at a Southeast Baltimore soup kitchen.
In 1985, she was one of the founders and refurbishers of the former convent of St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church at Greenmount Avenue and 22nd Street.
Mrs. Pikla and several nuns converted the aging convent into classrooms for grades one through eight, spending two months painting, scrubbing floors and cleaning before opening a school they called Christ the King.
"She just did it because she loved kids," said Sister Peggy Funk, one of the co-founders. "She did all she could for them. She had a genuine love for life."
Christ the King had about 50 students and was supported through private donations. After helping with its renovation, Mrs. Pikla worked as an aide, librarian and teacher. The school closed in 1990.
"They worked hard there and made it look good," said her husband of 48 years, Victor Pikla. "They spent a lot of time making sure things were right for the kids. She was very upset with the school's closing. She thought it seemed like nobody cared."
A Baltimore native, the former Mary Frances Harris graduated from Seton High School in 1947 and worked as a secretary at Fort Meade until 1951. From 1952 to 1954, she worked at the downtown offices of the Social Security Administration and then in the statistics department at the Veterans Administration hospital in Northeast Baltimore.
She later volunteered at the White Marsh and Perry Hall libraries, and also at the Franciscan Center, a midtown facility that offers food, shelter and clothing to the homeless or needy.
For the past year, she volunteered about once a week at the Beans and Bread soup kitchen on Bond Street in East Baltimore, usually doling out desserts.
Margaret Habler, a neighbor and fellow volunteer at Beans and Bread, said Mrs. Pikla made it a point to talk to and know as many of the soup kitchen's patrons as possible.
Said Ms. Habler: "She could relate to their problems. She was a very Christian woman."
Services were held yesterday.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by a son, Paul Pikla of White Marsh.