Kathleen E. 'Kitty' Tallent, teacher, librarian, lay leader in Sisters of Mercy

Kathleen E. “Kitty” Tallent, who had careers as a teacher, a librarian and as a lay leader in the Sisters of Mercy, died Friday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease at Stella Maris Hospice. The Timonium resident was 84.

“Kitty brought a great heart as director of lay associates for the Sisters of Mercy, and that’s what we needed. She was also a very spiritual person,” said Sister Pat Smith, RSM. She said her friendship with Mrs. Tallent went back to their days together at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Roland Park.

The former Kathleen Elizabeth O’Donnell was born in Ellicott City, one of five children. She was the daughter of Thomas Patrick O’Donnell, a construction foreman, and Teresa Fuller O’Donnell, an elementary school teacher.

After a fire destroyed their home, they resettled in 1943 in a home on Liberty Road in Sykesville. A portion of the family’s land later became part of Liberty Reservoir.

As a child, Mrs. Tallent won a contest related to collecting fireflies — something that became a lifelong interest. She also acted in theater, golfed and played basketball as a student at Sykesville High School.

After graduating there in 1952, she enrolled as a scholarship student at Immaculata College in Malvern, Pa., where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1956. She then began teaching in Delaware County public schools in Sharon Hill, Pa.

In 1958 she met and fell in love with Thomas Tallent, whom she married two years later. They settled in Drexel Hill, Pa., and began raising a family.

For the delight of her children, she wrote and illustrated a book about a firefly, called “Sunny Boy,” family members said.

While living near Philadelphia, Mrs. Tallent earned a master’s degree in education, with a special emphasis in dyslexia, from Temple University.

In 1973, the family moved to a home they had built in Marriottsville.

Mrs. Tallent taught English at South Carroll, Liberty and Westminster high schools, often to special education students.

A devout Roman Catholic, she was a member and leader at St. Joseph’s Catholic Community in Sykesville, where she served on the parish council and advocated for female altar servers. As a feminist, she joined the Women’s Ordination Conference in support of women becoming priests.

“She was very religious and learned,” said her brother, Bill O’Donnell of West Friendship. “Plus, she was just a great sister.”

“In the mid-1980s, her faith prompted her down a new path,” wrote a daughter, Anne Tallent, a Baltimore Sun editor and Silver Spring resident, in a biographical profile of her mother.

In the 1970s, she began working in the library at St. Mary’s Seminary and University. At the same time, she studied toward a master’s degree in theology, which she obtained in 1990.

She received a doctorate of ministry in 1993 from Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, Pa. Her dissertation was entitled, “The Stained Glass Ceiling: The Development of Women Pastoral Associates in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”

“She became connected to the Sisters of Mercy in the 1970s while working at St. Mary’s Seminary and University,” said Sister Pat, who is stepping down this week as chair of the board for Mercy High School, though she will continue as a board member.

Mrs. Tallent became a member of the lay associates for the Sisters of Mercy while also teaching as an adjunct at Notre Dame of Maryland University.

“The lay associates are composed of women and men who follow our spirit. In the early 2000s, she became director of the associates,” Sister Pat said. “She brought great generosity and was a great listener. She had the ability to listen to people and, of course, that came from her background in theology.”

Mrs. Tallent retired in 2008.

She was also an active member of the Friends of Bon Secours Spiritual Center, which supports the work of the Bon Secours Retreat & Conference Center in Marriottsville.

“She would go on group retreats or she’d go on her own for prayer and meditation,” Sister Pat said.

Mrs. Tallent and a group of friends from St. Mary’s Seminary and University would get together each summer on the Jersey Shore.

“We would go to Ventnor where the sisters of Mercy have a vacation home,” Sister Pat said. “This was very significant and important to Kitty.”

Mrs. Tallent had lived in Eldersburg and Towson before settling in 2009 in Timonium. She had been a Girl Scout leader, an avid gardener, nature lover and theater patron. She also liked to paint landscapes in oils and play the piano.

Viewings will be held 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Ruck Funeral Home, 1050 York Road, Towson. Mrs. Tallent will lie in repose beginning at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the chapel at Stella Maris, 2300 Dulaney Valley Road, Timonium, with a Mass of Christian burial following at 10 a.m.

In addition to her husband of 57 years, a retired U.S. Postal Service manager, and her daughter and brother, Mrs. Tallent is survived by two sons, Will Tallent of Timonium and Thomas Tallent of Miami, Fla.; two other daughters, Kate Tallent of Baltimore and Elizabeth Tallent Alpert of Falls Church, Va.; a sister, Mary Pearce of Westminster; and a grandson.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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