Sister Mary Kateri

A member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, she served nearly half a century as a parochial school educator

January 22, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,

Sister Mary Kateri Sullivan, a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy whose career as a parochial school educator spanned nearly 50 years, died in her sleep Friday at The Villa, her order's retirement home in the Woodbrook section of Baltimore County. She was 94.

Catherine Agnes Sullivan was born and raised in Southwest Baltimore. As a child, she attended St. Peter the Apostle parochial school.

After graduating from Seton High School in 1933, she entered the Religious Sisters of Mercy. She took the religious name of Mary Kateri and made her final profession of vows in 1939.

Sister Mary Kateri earned a bachelor's degree in education from Mount St. Agnes College in 1949 and a master's degree in education from Loyola College in 1956.

"From second grade on, Sister Mary Kateri aimed to become a teacher and never lost her enthusiasm for elementary education. She knew that she had a genius for teaching," said Sister Mary Faith McKean, a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy and a longtime friend.

"She served as a parochial school teacher, principal, supervisor of Mercy schools and as a college teacher of education," Sister Mary Faith said. "With the exception of a dozen years in Georgia, she taught in Maryland."

Sister Mary Kateri began her teaching career in 1937 at St. Gregory parochial school before joining the faculty at St. Vincent parochial school in Savannah, Ga., in 1939.

In 1942, she returned to St. Gregory in Baltimore, and then taught at Mount Washington Country School from 1945 to 1949; she then taught for a year at St. Cecilia parochial school.

Sister Mary Kateri was principal of the Cathedral School in Savannah from 1950 to 1955, when she was named principal of Our Lady of the Assumption in Atlanta.

She returned to Baltimore in 1960 when she joined the faculty of Mount St. Agnes College in Mount Washington.

From 1963 to 1977, Sister Mary Kateri was an administrator of Mercy schools in Baltimore, serving as a counselor and later supervisor of elementary education.

Sister Mary Kateri also established STEP - Student Teacher Education Program - for student teachers in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

She held teaching positions at St. Frances de Sales school in Salisbury and Mount Washington Country School, and later was a staff member at Stella Maris Hospice from 1982 to 1984.

Sister Mary Kateri was a part-time educator at St. Joseph parochial school in Cockeysville from 1984 to 1994, when she retired.

In retirement, she volunteered at Trinity House, an assisted-living facility in Towson, from 1994 to 2004.

"She was always a marvelously encouraging teacher. Here she was in her 10th decade, and she was still interested in teaching and prepping young girls," Sister Mary Faith said. "As a teacher, she never burned out. She just had a great gift of encouraging others."

Sister Mary Christopher Bourke is also a member of the order and a retired teacher.

"She was an enthusiastic teacher who influenced many students to become the kind of teacher that we need today. She mixed her academic knowledge with laughter and joy. What a good foundation she gave them," Sister Mary Christopher said.

"Her interest in education lasted until the end of her life. Just two years ago, she helped a teacher find the right book which she needed to reach a child who was having difficulty," Sister Mary Christopher said.

Sister Mary Agnese Neumann, also a semiretired educator and member of the order, taught with Sister Mary Kateri in Savannah.

"She was my principal at the Cathedral School and was a great influence on my life," she said. "She was such an enthusiastic and infectious educator that in no time at all, this spread not only to the students but the faculty as well. And this was because of her love of education."

Sister Mary Agnese said she ran a "well-ordered school with a firm hand" and praised her willingness to let teachers explore and implement new teaching methods in their classrooms.

"She was always very supportive and open to new ideas. And as a principal, she was fair and just to both students and faculty. She was an excellent role model and expected you to measure up."

Since 1999, Sister Mary Kateri had been a resident of The Villa.

"She never forgot her roots in Southwest Baltimore and was always sending me money for the poor at St. Peter the Apostle. I don't know where she got it," said the Rev. Michael J. Roach, former pastor of the church, who now is pastor of St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Manchester.

"She was a very handsome and charming Irishwoman who was extremely competent and all heart," Father Roach said. "She was also a wonderful correspondent who never forgot anyone."

Father Roach celebrated a Mass of Christian burial for Sister Mary Kateri on Monday at The Villa.

"We had so many people - including a former student who had traveled all the way from Kansas City - that we had to set up extra chairs," he said.

Surviving are a brother, Thomas Sullivan of Halethorpe; a sister, Mary S. Morini of Amsterdam, N.Y.; and many nieces and nephews.

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