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Dominican Sister Kathleen Donnelly, 96

Served 35 years as principal at St. Hugh School, had been a religious for 79 years

Dominican Sister Kathleen Donnelly, 96, served 35 years as principal at St. Hugh School, had been a religious for 79 years. Died April 2, 2018 in the Dominican Life Center in Adrian, Michigan.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO

Dominican Sister Kathleen Donnelly, 96, served 35 years as principal at St. Hugh School, had been a religious for 79 years. Died April 2, 2018 in the Dominican Life Center in Adrian, Michigan.

MIAMI | When she retired as principal of St. Hugh School in 2009, Sister Kathleen Donnelly had broken a record: Her 35-year tenure at the Coconut Grove school had made her the longest-serving principal in the Archdiocese of Miami.

A school alumna whose two children attended St. Hugh at the time told The Miami Herald: “I don’t know what the school is going to be like without her… She is the soul of the school.”

At 87, however, Sister Kathleen’s shoulder and hip were giving her trouble. “Walking is very difficult and so I have to realize that unless I can be 110 percent effective I’m not doing my work well,” she told the Herald.

A few months later, after having hip surgery, she was back in South Florida, volunteering as pastoral assistant and teacher at St. Patrick School, Miami Beach, where she had taught after first coming to Miami in 1944.

Sister Kathleen, a member of the Adrian Dominican congregation, died April 2, 2018, at the Dominican Life Center in Adrian, Michigan. She was 96 and in her 79th year of religious life.

Known in the early days as Sister Charles Mary Donnelly, the West Palm Beach native had spent 67 years ministering in Florida schools. She began teaching third grade in 1939.

“My life as you can see has been children and teaching,” she told the Herald when she retired.

Sister Kathleen taught at schools in Detroit and Chicago before coming to St. Patrick, where she taught from 1944 to 1952. She spent six years as teacher and principal at Sacred Heart School in Pensacola (1952-58); taught at St. Matthew in Jacksonville (1958-61); then spent five years at Little Flower, Hollywood (1961-66).

After spending a year as a teacher at Holy Family School in St. Petersburg, she returned to South Florida in 1967, serving as principal of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Fort Lauderdale, until 1974. That fall, she began her long tenure at St. Hugh.

Under her leadership, a new school building was erected next to the church; the school received accreditation from the Florida Catholic Conference; and several facilities were added, including a playground and running track, science lab, meditation garden, basketball-volleyball court, art room and chapel.

“I try to teach children they must be leaders, not followers — leaders for good,” she told the Herald in 2009.

In 2008, Sister Kathleen received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross, the highest papal recognition, for “outstanding witness to the Catholic faith.”

Born Oct. 7, 1921, Sister Kathleen was the oldest of three daughters in a devout Irish Catholic family. Her father played professional baseball for the Cardinals, Cubs and Orioles.

At the suggestion of her Catholic school principal, she moved from West Palm Beach to Adrian after her sophomore year, to finish high school at St. Joseph Academy there. She entered the Adrian Dominicans after graduation. She eventually received a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in education from Barry College (now University) in Miami Shores.

Sister Kathleen returned permanently to the Dominican Life Center in Adrian in 2011. She is survived by a sister, Patricia Lechifflard of Lake Worth, and several nieces and nephews.

A wake and prayer service will take place Monday, April 9, beginning at 6 p.m. in the Dominican Life Center, followed by funeral Mass at St. Catherine Chapel on Tuesday, April 10, at 10:30 a.m. She will be buried in the congregation’s cemetery nearby.

Memorial gifts may be made to Adrian Dominican Sisters, 1257 East Siena Heights Drive, Adrian, Michigan, 49221.

Comments from readers

Carlota E. Morales, Ed. D. - 04/09/2018 06:10 PM
It was great sadness that I read the news of Sister Kathleen's death. Those of us who had the pleasure of knowing her realize that of icon in education is no longer among us. May this great woman who inspire so many people rest in peace with her Lord. Respectfully, Carlota E. Morales, Ed/ D/

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