Frances Kavanagh

The Baltimore Sun

Frances M. Kavanagh, a retired nurse who had been a captain in a Johns Hopkins medical unit during World War II and was later a revered figure in her church, died of congestive heart failure Tuesday at Manor Care Ruxton. The former Mount Vernon resident was 102.

Born Frances Mathilda Cowles in Erie, Pa., and known as Chinky, she won a Kiwanis Club scholarship to the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, where she was a 1929 graduate and did post-graduate work in obstetrics in 1931.

She initially lived on Broadway and worked at the hospital and for private patients. After World War II broke out, she joined the Women's Army Corps. She sailed on a troop ship to England and worked with the 56th General Hospital Unit in England, Belgium and France. The group received the Unit Citation for Meritorious Services at the conclusion of the war.

"She was scared of the crates she had to fly on from battle to battle," said a sister-in-law, Eileen Kavanagh, who lives in Bel Air. "After the war, she vowed never to fly again."

While in Europe, she had hopes of meeting up with her beau, John Patrick Kavanagh, who had been a reporter for the old Baltimore Post and was later an assistant city editor of the old News American, family members said.

The two, who never met up during the conflict, were married in 1946. He was stationed in North Africa, where he developed tuberculosis. After the war, she nursed him back to health.

She made good on her promise never to fly again. She and her husband took steamship vacations.

After the war, she returned to work at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Hopkins and later taught practical nursing at Maryland General Hospital. She also graduated from the Women's Institute in Domestic Sciences with a diploma in foods and cookery. She planned to open a restaurant in downtown Baltimore, but dropped the idea when her husband opposed it.

In the 1980s, she was a regular patron of Kavanagh's, a bar and restaurant opened by her nephews at Linden Avenue and Madison Street.

For nearly 60 years, she resided in the family home in the 900 block of N. Calvert St., where she prepared meals in a basement kitchen and used a dumbwaiter to send hot dishes to the first-floor dining room. Friends recalled that she referred to her kitchen as "my laboratory" and earned a reputation among family, friends and churchgoers for her dishes and baked goods.

In the 1970s, she became active at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, where a plaque commemorates her many years of hospitality to the parish.

"I saw her as the mother of our church," said the former St. Ignatius pastor, the Rev. William J. Watters. "She herself had no offspring. The people of the congregation were her family. She loved being at a table passing her dishes and handing out an endless supply of gifts."

Mrs. Kavanagh enjoyed giving parties and hosted annual Christmas Eve events for her newspaper and church friends.

She retained the old rowhouse for several years after her husband's death in 1983. She sold it when she was in her 90s and lived independently until she was 98.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Ignatius Church, 740 N. Calvert St.

Survivors include nieces and nephews.

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