Lifetime Achievement: MSA Alumnae Honor Sr. Kenneth

Vocation leads Mount Saint Agnes alumna to Guyana

By Linda Strowbridge  |  Photo by Larry Canner
Sr. McGuire

Her days are filled with bringing the Eucharist to Catholic patients in a city hospital, visiting destitute seniors in a state-run home for the elderly, ministering to seriously ill residents of a medical facility, and teaching English and mathematics to children struggling with poverty, crime, broken families, and inadequate schools in one of the poorest nations on Earth.

Yet Sr. Mary Kenneth McGuire, RSM, MSA ’50, insists she does not work full time.

Sr. Kenneth—a former dean of students at Mount Saint Agnes College, assistant dean at Loyola University Maryland, and pastoral associate at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Baltimore—left her lifelong home in the city seven years ago and “at the youthful age of 76” began a new life as a missionary in Guyana.

It was during a 2003 Sisters of Mercy trip to the South American country to deliver medical supplies that “I felt called by God to come here and live and work,” said Sr. Kenneth, now 83.

Sr. Kenneth, who had spent nearly 30 years helping some of Baltimore City’s poorest residents learn to read, land jobs, and secure housing, was struck by the similar and severe challenges facing the poor of Georgetown, Guyana. And the young trainees—mostly school dropouts—at the order’s Mercy Wings Vocational and Day Care Center “stole my heart,” she said. She realized that teachers at Mercy Wings could transform those young lives.

Now an established member of Guyana’s Mercy Community, Sr. Kenneth admits that conditions in the country can be heartbreaking.

“Next to Haiti, Guyana is listed as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” she said. “Many Guyanese have left this country to live and work in the United States, Canada, or England because the economic situation here is so bad. We need creative, courageous people to come back to their beloved country, which is presently being overcome with crime and violence.”

Emigration, she explained, has left Guyana with desperate shortages of teachers, physicians, social workers, and other vital professionals. It has also left Guyana—which is rich in gold, silver, bauxite, and other precious metals—failing to profit from its own riches and at risk of losing one of the last remaining virgin rain forests. Yet the people of Guyana are inspirational, Sr. Kenneth said.

“Some of my favorite, faith-filled people live in the Palms, a government geriatric home overcrowded with destitute people,” she said. “Truly, a number of the wards are depressing until one gets to know the people themselves, who transform their surroundings with hope and joy. One of my favorites (and there are several) is Clarine. It was weeks before I knew Clarine’s name because any time I would ask her, she would answer, ‘Praise the Lord!’ so that’s what we called her until she finally disclosed her secret. Her joy is totally contagious.”

In April, the Mount Saint Agnes College Alumnae Association awarded Sr. Kenneth its Lifetime Achievement Award. After Sally Riley, MSA ’68, notified Sr. Kenneth that she had been nominated for the award, Sr. Kenneth called and asked, “Why me?”

“How do you explain to somebody who has spent their entire life being helpful to other people, guiding other people, that this deserves credit because there are other people in the world who would never think to spend their entire life helping others?” said Riley, this year’s reunion chair. “But her whole nature is to help others. It would never occur to her to think of herself.”

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4 Comments

  • Posted by Kathy Benisch | December 18, 2011

    I am so happy to see Sr Kenneth (Kitty as she is known to the family) being recognized for her many, many years of fantastic, tireless, important work.

    We are all blessed to have her in our lives!

    Kathy Benisch

  • Posted by Patsy McGuire | September 27, 2012

    I am so happy to have found something about Kitty. My sister Mary and I met Kitty many years ago at our dear aunts Gretta and Patty’s house, 192 in Dublin, while we were visiting from England, and she was visiting from Mount St Agnes, when we were little girls. We were overawed by the experience and knew she was special all those years ago. I wonder if Kitty would ever get to read this message? If anyone knows how we could get in touch with her, or any of the McGuire family in the US, please contact me. Thank you.

  • Posted by Kathy | February 26, 2014

    Patsy- How can I get in touch with you?
    regards, Kathy

  • Posted by Kathy | February 27, 2014

    Thank-you Brigid at Loyola Magazine for connecting us! God bless!

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