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'Trish' Ostermann, teacher and administrator, dies

Patricia Ostermann was principal of Towson Catholic High School and later vice principal of academics at her alma mater, The Catholic High School.
Patricia Ostermann was principal of Towson Catholic High School and later vice principal of academics at her alma mater, The Catholic High School.

Baltimore native and noted educator Patricia "Trish" Lavin Ostermann died of lung cancer Dec. 29. The Orrtanna, Pa., resident was 78.

“I know I’m prejudiced because I love her, but if anyone was a born teacher, Trish was,” said her husband, Ken Ostermann.

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A former student, Kathy O’Neill, agreed. “She was one of those people who thought of you as a real person, not just a student.”

“She was just a great communicator,” said her sister, Lynn Patrice Lavin, OSF, of Wilmington. “And in her communication I think she unified a lot of people.”

Born in Baltimore in 1940 to Thomas Ellwood Lavin Sr., a motion picture projectionist for Durkee & Son, and Helen G. Welzel, a homemaker, Mrs. Ostermann was the eldest of four children. Both her parents were of Irish descent, and Mrs. Ostermann embraced her heritage, traveling to the country many times during her life. She received a master’s degree at the University of Dublin.

As a teenager, she attended The Catholic High School of Baltimore, followed by Loyola College, now Loyola University Maryland. There she met Mr. Ostermann in the school’s cafeteria.

“She had a smile that would knock your socks off,” said Mr. Ostermann, whom she married nearly two decades later, in 1977.

After graduating from Loyola, Mrs. Ostermann began her career as an educator, teaching at various schools in the region, including St. Joseph’s Elementary and Middle School, Essex Elementary School in Baltimore County and Towson Catholic High School. She taught various subjects, including English, reading and journalism. In 1972, she became chairwoman of the English department at Towson Catholic, a position she held for 16 years.

According to her husband, Mrs. Ostermann believed that “if you treat the kids equally and fairly, they will respond in kind. That was her guiding principal. To teach them equally and fairly.”

A natural extrovert, her specialty was public speaking, or forensics, and she coached students in national competitions.

Now 64, Ms. O’Neill says she was a shy freshman with a “monotone voice” at Towson Catholic when she first met Mrs. Ostermann, then known to students as “Miss Lavin.” Mrs. Ostermann encouraged Ms. O’Neill to join the forensics team after school to improve her confidence. “It really made a big impact on my life,” said Ms. O’Neill. She credits her ability to conduct trainings at work to Mrs. Ostermann’s encouragement and support. The two remained in close touch until Mrs. Ostermann’s death.

The forensics team’s successes were covered in The Baltimore Sun in 1970. “Under the direction of Patricia Lavin, the Towson Catholic Forensic Club has concluded its season of oratory and speech with an impressive showing in the National Catholic Forensic League Tournament in Miami,” read the article, accompanied by a photo of Mrs. Ostermann and her students.

In 1988, Mrs. Ostermann became principal of Towson Catholic High School, leaving in 1991 to become vice principal of academics at her alma mater, The Catholic High School. “Even though she was no longer a teacher — she was an administrator — she interacted a lot with the kids,” Mr. Ostermann said.

After a long day at work, Mrs. Ostermann unwound in the kitchen. “In fact when I would come home from work, I knew what kind of day she had” depending on the condition of the kitchen, her husband said. A rough day meant an elaborate dish, with pots and pans piled up. He especially loved her beef bourguignon.

“She had a great love for being able to cook for others,” said Sister Lavin. She took classes at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.

Mrs. Ostermann also enjoyed reading, and “could sit down and get completely immersed in a book and read for three or four hours without a problem,” said Mr. Ostermann.

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In 2001, Mrs. Ostermann left her position at The Catholic High School, and the couple moved to Pennsylvania, where she had originally planned to retire. But it wasn’t long before she took a substitute teaching job at a nearby school. “I miss the kids,” she told him. She soon became a beloved fixture, even walking down the aisle with high school students at their graduation. The couple hardly went anywhere without students cheerfully greeting her on the street: “Hi, Mrs. Ostermann!”

Mrs. Ostermann held memberships in the National Catholic Education Association and National Forensic League Coaches Association, among other professional organizations. Along with her husband, she volunteered with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “For many years, the two of us maintained a shelter on the trail,” Mr. Ostermann said, sweeping out debris and the fire pit to keep it clean after campers had left.

A Memorial Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated Saturday, Jan. 26 at 11 a.m. at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Edgewood.

In addition to her husband and sister, she is survived by another sister, Mary Lynn Lavin of Berkeley Springs, W.Va. A brother, Thomas Lavin, preceded her in death.

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