A Labor of Love — Funeral Homily for Alice Karr, 91

No funeral homily can present the complete fullness of a Christian’s life. At best, I think a funeral homily can focus on aspects of a person’s life, and through this, help reveal the beautiful, saving mysteries of God. In the brief, less than 200-word obituary which Alice wrote for herself, she noted that she taught and was the principal of schools in Gary, Indiana; Milwaukee, Marshfield, and Eau Claire, Wisconsin; and in Littleton and Denver, Colorado. Today, I would like to reflect upon these years of Alice as an educator/administrator.

In 1984, she became principal of Good Shepherd Catholic School in Denver, Colorado. The school’s prospects at the time were very bleak, having a registered enrollment of just 34 students. But “during her first two years on the job, [she] put herself on a 78-hour week, organized a recruitment program, showed maintenance men how to clean bathrooms and mop floors, opened the first middle school in the Archdiocese, organized many elective classes, and involved parents in maintenance.” Her pastor at the time praised her “exceptional leadership and organizational abilities” and observed how her “relationship with faculty, students, and parents has been unusually successful; and all are supportive of her administration.” By her third year on the job, the total student enrollment was 280 and still growing. As one parent recalled, Alice “made a personal commitment to each child by providing the best possible educational environment … I remember the dire warnings we all received about the lack of future our school faced. Without [her] loving, dedicated, and wise guidance—not to mention the 12-hour days she puts in—we would be without our school. She is truly a remarkable person.” This story of Alice’s faithful fruitfulness was featured in a 1987 article of Today’s Catholic Teacher Magazine when they named her their November “principal of the month.”

This was not this first time Alice had made the press. She was also profiled in the summer of 1970, within the pages of The School Sisters of Notre Dame Magazine, in a piece entitled “Educator for the Special Child.” It describes her work at the Lorenz Institute, a private, non-sectarian, residential treatment center in Eau Claire for emotionally-disturbed children. When Alice accepted the invitation to become the principal at a facility such as this, the article recalls “she knew what she could expect—anything, at any time.” The author notes how “hours of duress, frustration, and Excedrin strain [would take] their toll” on Alice and her teaching staff, but Alice would buoy them with her seemingly constant smile, ready humor, and practical wisdom. One man interviewed said he saw Alice’s work with the staff as even more valuable than that with the children. She was a dynamo of productive energy back in those days, too. The staff affectionately dubbed her “the black and white tornado.” Why did Alice labor so incessantly? 12-hour days, six-and-a-half days a week, quite possibly until she had eventually burnt herself out. Why did she so dedicate herself to her work like this? The answer, the reason, is love.

At The Lorenz Institute, the magazine author records, the staff didn’t know what to make of Alice at first, but “evidence of [her] concern for the boys and girls unfolded day by day.” For example, “An upset boy expecting a scolding was taken off guard by the firm hand [she] laid on his shoulder, by the penetrating gaze of her steady eyes, and—once the lad’s defenses were lowered—a teasing word and/or serious directive reached its mark.” The article includes a photo of one corner of her office at that facility. The caption describes “a unique conference setting: a plain folding chair for her, a brightly decorated milk-can stool for the child. This arrangement puts the child higher than the adult, and, immeasurably, the child grows.” Alice believed love to be the very best behavior modifier. “It is not enough to teach children how to read and write,” she said, “we must show them how to live with each other.” Alice believed we must teach others to love through loving them, by loving them like God loves us.

Jesus has a great love for children. Once, calling a child over and putting his arms around it, he said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” When children in the Gospels knew Jesus’ love towards them they were being shown God the Father’s love as well. And when children experienced Alice’s love for them they were being shown a partial reflection of God’s love for them.

Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them,” Jesus says, “for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, realize that we are God’s children now. The Father has adopted us as his own sons and daughters because he loves us. Today we pray for Alice’s soul, as is right and just, for who among us is perfect? But if you have ever witnessed Alice’s love for you, then realize that you have seen a small reflection of God’s love for you.

One Response to “A Labor of Love — Funeral Homily for Alice Karr, 91”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:


    Wow–what wonders God did in Alice :)!

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