Sister Mary Aloysius Kerchner, 97, longtime educator, worked with inmates

February 04, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Sister Mary Aloysius Kerchner, a parochial school educator who in retirement taught inmates at the Baltimore women's detention center, died of cardiac arrest Monday at The Villa, her order's retirement home in Pinehurst. She was 97.

Born Beatrice Crawford Kerchner in Baltimore and raised on West University Parkway, she was a 1925 graduate of Mount St. Agnes High School. She entered the order of the Sisters of Mercy in 1928 and professed her vows in 1933.

Sister Aloysius attended Trinity College in Washington before earning a bachelor's degree in Latin in 1936 from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

During a career of more than 40 years, she held teaching assignments in Mobile, Ala., and in Washington's Georgetown section from 1936 to 1954 at Holy Trinity School. Locally, she taught at Shrine of the Sacred Heart School, Mount Washington Country School, and from 1956 to 1961 at Mount St. Agnes High School.

"Science, especially biology and chemistry, was probably her first love. She received numerous grants for study throughout the years and proved to be on the cutting edge of encouraging women to pursue and achieve in the fields of science and math," said Sister Helen M. Doherty, who was a student at Mount St. Agnes and became a member of the Sisters of Mercy.

"In addition, Sister taught Latin and English and students recall her Virgil classes with affection and trepidation. One did not darken the Latin IV door without having prepared the prescribed translation of The Aeneid. She didn't throw tantrums. It was understood that you came to class prepared," she said.

In 1961, Sister Aloysius returned to Mobile and taught in high schools until retiring in 1974 and moving back to her native city.

In 1976, she began teaching at the women's jail in downtown Baltimore.

"She found great joy tutoring the inmates in math and English and teaching them how to crochet. I think she found her prison work intensely satisfying," said Sister Patricia A. Smith, vice president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Baltimore Regional Community. "She wanted to teach women who didn't have any skills how to be productive. She gave them things they could be proud of.

"Someone warned her that she might not do well with the women in jail as she had spent her life at places like Mount St. Agnes and Holy Trinity in Georgetown," said Sister Margaret Beatty, a member of the order. "She agreed to try it anyway, and treated the women like Mount St. Agnes girls and they responded like Mount St. Agnes girls. She treated them with respect and they responded in kind."

During her time at the detention center, Sister Aloysius crocheted hundreds of pairs of slippers for the women inmates to wear and baked cookies every year so that each of them would have something personal to open on Christmas morning.

"She was not one of the well-known Sisters of Mercy because she preferred to stay in the background," Sister Patricia said.

She liked to crochet, and play Scrabble "to keep her mental faculties sharp," Sister Patricia said.

A funeral Mass was offered Wednesday.

Sister Aloysius is survived by nieces and nephews.

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