Sister Gabriel

[Age 98] The native of Ireland was a member of Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, serving in posts across the U.S.

She was the last living member of the order to have taught at Mission Helpers' Industrial School.

May 10, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Sister Gabriel Kerrigan, a member of Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart who made friends wherever she went, died of congestive heart failure Saturday at her order's retirement home in the Pinehurst section of Baltimore County. She was 98.

Born Mary Catherine Kerrigan in County Galway, Ireland, she immigrated to the U.S. in 1928 and joined the Roman Catholic religious order in 1937. She received the name Gabriel - and never lost her Irish accent.

She began working at the old Mission Helpers' Industrial School at Biddle and McCulloh streets in 1938. The school was established for impoverished African-American girls whose parents were unable to care for them. She taught her students to be economically self-sufficient by learning sewing and laundry skills while they earned a General Educational Development certificate.

She also insisted that her students remain on good terms with their mothers and write to them frequently.

Sister Gabriel kept up with her former students, several of whom continued to visit her.

"They considered Gabriel their mother," said Sister Judith Waldt, head of the order, who said that Sister Gabriel was the last living member of the order to have taught at the school, which was founded in 1890.

In the 1950s, she taught catechism at the old St. Francis Xavier School for the Deaf in Irvington and later worked with the deaf while on an assignment in Trenton, N.J. She also held posts for her order in Colorado, Arizona, West Virginia and Boston.

She returned to Baltimore in 1966 and worked in the infirmary at her order's motherhouse on West Joppa Road. She was also the first member of her order to get a driver's license and, as the convent driver, she became a familiar sight behind the wheel of a blue Chevrolet station wagon.

"Sister Gabriel would often ask at 11 at night if anyone would perform an act of charity," said Sister Judith. "That meant she wanted someone to go with her after closing hours to the old Towson A&P grocery store and meet the store manager, who would load her car all the way to the front seat up with bread, diapers and other items."

The next day, Sister Gabriel would be up and down Belair Road emptying her station wagon, said Sister Judith. "She seemed to know everybody and had connections all over the place - and she was never home."

At 80, Sister Gabriel took an assignment in Boston, where she tutored children in computer skills. She also completed the city's annual Walk for Hunger and said she felt "better than before" at its end. In 1994, she began living in Rocky Creek, Fla., spending her days visiting the lonely. She took buses into downtown Tampa to a veterans hospital to feed a friend she had made in her retirement village.

"What I remember of Sister Gabriel was her care for those who were suffering - the unemployed, the sick, those who lived alone and those in need of prayer," said Sister Judith.

In 2004 she returned to Baltimore and entered her order's retirement home. A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Mission Helper Center, 1001 W. Joppa Road in Towson.

Survivors include her sister, Margaret Kerrigan in Galway, Ireland; and nieces and nephews.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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