Kathleen T. Perry, a devout Roman Catholic who opened up her heart and home to children, died Tuesday at St. Martin's Home in Catonsville after a recent medical procedure.
The longtime Fallston resident was 93.
"Kathleen was a saintly person. Everything was positive, and she loved everyone," said Sister Lourdes Miranda, a member of the Little Sisters of the Poor and director of the Lourdes Unit at St. Martin's Home where Mrs. Perry resided.
"She was a very devout Catholic who always went to Mass. If she wasn't in her room, she was always in the chapel. It meant so much to her," said Sister Lourdes.
"Her career was being a wonderful mom and homemaker," said a son, Joseph M. Perry of Towson. "She had a big heart and embraced everyone."
The daughter of a general store owner and a homemaker, Kathleen Teresa Noel was born and raised on her family's farm in Bonneauville, Pa.
From 1925 to 1933, she attended Immaculate Conception School in New Oxford, Pa., and graduated in 1937 from Central High School in McSherrystown, Pa.
It was Mrs. Perry's goal to become a nun. She entered the Sisters of Mercy but was compelled to leave the order because of health problems.
She then worked as a telephone operator, saleswoman, kitchen worker and governess before becoming active with interracial justice programs at Friendship House in New York City's Harlem and later at Friendship House in Marathon City, Wis.
While working with the interracial justice group in Wisconsin in 1947, she met Joseph Lawrence Perry, an educator and former Xaverian brother who had unsuccessfully tried to integrate Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington during the 1940s. After the school refused to admit African-American students, he left the religious order.
The couple married in 1948, when her husband joined the faculty at what was then Benjamin Franklin Junior High School, and moved to Riviera Beach in 1953.
"For the first five years, she tried to get pregnant but couldn't, and then they adopted two little girls," said Joseph M. Perry. "I was the first-born and then she had nine more in a row."
In addition to her own children, the couple took in and raised seven foster children, and her love spilled over into the neighborhood where children considered her a second mother.
"She treated each child as if they were the most special person in the universe, and each child was so happy in her presence," said her son.
A daughter, Marian Perry Tamburrino of Baltimore, said that "it was important that all of the family ate together, and the dinner table was always like a party. It was easily the happiest part of the day."
"She was a wonderful cook, and in those early days we were pretty poor," he son said. "She'd go to the store and get day-old bread, and the grocers would save things for her.
"One of the dishes we looked forward to was her incredible hamburger soup and ham and string beans. On Sundays, after Mass, we had a huge breakfast with eggs, toast, sausage and turkey bacon," her son said. "She'd make peanut butter-and-carrot sandwiches, as well as cheese-and-dandelion sandwiches with dandelions she had gathered in our yard."
Mr. Perry said that in a daily ritual after dinner, the family gathered to say the rosary.
Throughout her life, Mrs. Perry was steered by her faith.
"My mother from the time she was a little girl had a consistent and abiding faith in the Catholic Church and the teachings of Jesus," her son said. "Her writings, journals and poems reflect this deep faith. And it was so important to her that she taught those teachings to us."
When she was a communicant of St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Pasadena and later at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church in Fallston, Mrs. Perry played the organ at Mass and served as Eucharistic minister.
Mrs. Perry delivered food for Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, participated in clothing drives for the needy, and was a volunteer hospital and day care worker.
Mrs. Perry and her husband moved to St. Martin's Home in 2000. He died in 2004.
"Kathleen was a very welcoming person and saw God in everybody and everything she did," said Sister Lourdes. "She had beautiful virtues and was very charitable."
"All her family and friends felt her powerful love, including those caring for her at St. Martin's. Nuns, care workers and residents of St. Martin's shared numerous stories of her thoughtful and caring ways, and her sweet and gentle spirit," said her son.
"Some staff said they went to her for advice on personal matters because they trusted her wisdom and integrity."
Mrs. Perry enjoyed playing the piano into her 90s and painting landscapes and portraits. She also liked gardening and was a skilled seamstress.
A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the chapel at St. Martin's Home, 601 Maiden Choice Lane.
In addition to her son and daughter, Mrs. Perry is survived by five other sons, John J. Perry of Bel Air, Martin J. Perry of Fallston, Lawrence J. Perry of Gettysburg, Pa., Michael J. Perry of Waynesboro, Pa., and Dominic J. Perry of Lake Placid, N.Y.; four other daughters, Rose Ann Perry of Edgewood, Peggy R. Perry of Baltimore, Kateri M. Ottati of Franklin Square, N.Y., and Gloria M. Quinn of Mendon, Vt.; two brothers, Bob Noel of Columbia and Bill Noel of New Oxford; a sister, Theresa Bunty of Newton, Miss.; 20 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Mrs. Perry is survived by six of her foster children, Gregory M. Rigby, Betty Famalaro, Leonard Genova, Gerard Lichtenberger, all of Baltimore, Susan M. Stuart of Phoenix, Baltimore County, and Judy A. Cannella of Kingsville. A daughter, Maripat Perry Fader, died in 2008; and a foster daughter, Pat Megenheart, died in 2003.
This obituary has been updated.