Helen Maisel, 91, nurse who rallied to save alma mater

February 13, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Helen Maisel, a retired St. Agnes Hospital nurse who rallied fellow alumnae in a successful effort to save their Catholic high school, died of cancer complications Sunday at her Catonsville home. She was 91.

Born Margaret Helen Kirwan on Ingleside Avenue in Catonsville, she was a 1930 graduate of Mount de Sales Academy of the Visitation, where she had been a boarding student since fourth grade. She earned a nursing degree in 1933 at the old St. Agnes Hospital nursing school.

As a young woman she worked at St. Agnes, and after raising a family, she became director of housekeeping at what is now Mercy Medical Center in downtown Baltimore. In 1963, she returned to St. Agnes and was a staff nurse at its outpatient clinic. She retired in 1977, but stayed on as a Wednesday afternoon volunteer until she was 84.

"She was understanding and patient with those she took care of," said a fellow St. Agnes nurse, Mary Louise Howard. "The doctors thought the world of Helen. I don't recall anyone ever getting angry with her, but she could be very firm when it came to issues of health. When she told her patients to do something, she'd say, `It's for your own good.'"

"She was the nurse of the family and the whole neighborhood, too. It seemed that everyone at Edmondson and Ingleside ran to her," said a daughter, Sister Frederick Mary, SSND, of Baltimore. "When people needed help, they called for her. At the clinic, she brought in extra clothes and gave them out to the poor."

In the 1970s, Mrs. Maisel took a leading role in a campaign to save Mount de Sales Academy, which by then no longer had boarding students and had eliminated its grammar-school grades. As the school's enrollment fell -- and the Visitation nuns declined in number -- she contacted fellow graduates. She gave tours of the mid-19th- century academy, chapel and its cloistered monastery, and wrote a lengthy article published in the old Sun Magazine in 1980.

Referring to the type of loose blouse and sailor collar often worn at that time, Mrs. Maisel wrote, "When I first came to the school we wore middy blouses and skirts. Sister Mary would stand under the big clock watching us go up the stairs. If a girl's bloomers didn't touch her stockings, she was hauled out of line."

The school survived and now has a capacity enrollment of 465 students.

"She really rallied the spirit of the alumnae to become much more involved in the practical aspect of helping the school financially," said Claire Cohagan, a member of its Class of 1978. "She helped to build a sense of community -- that there was a spirit to the school that carries on after you've graduated."

The Helen Kirwan Maisel Leadership Award is given each June to the school's graduating senior class president.

For the past three decades, Mrs. Maisel had been a square dancer and belonged to Middle Atlantic clubs. She had been a director of the 1973 Star-Spangled Banner Festival of Square Dancing.

Her husband of 48 years, Frederick Maisel III, died in 1982.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow in the chapel at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, 27 Melvin Ave., Catonsville, where she was a 60-year member.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include a son, Frederick Maisel IV of Catonsville; another daughter, Margaret M. Young of Rossville; a sister, Mary Kirwan Wurtzer of Ellicott City; 10 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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