How great is the love the Father has lavished on us! (1 John 3:1)
Marriage isn’t merely about the husband and wife, it’s also about the people around the couple as they live this holy sacrament. Eugene and Mary Kirsch’s 58-year-marriage was a source of blessing to many others because of the beautiful witness they gave.
And they continued to teach about married love–until the very end.
“Family and faith is what’s important!”
Eugene (Gene) and Mary met on a blind date. Since both were very active, they went bowling for this first outing together. Their love seemed a perfect strike from the beginning, and they married in 1955. Five years later, they moved to a home in Roseville and joined Maternity of Mary Church in St. Paul. They raised four daughters–Vicki, Lori, Kathy and Karen. All of the girls went to grade school at Maternity of Mary, and got married there.
Gene and Mary had a home business together–Gene was an accountant and mainly worked out of their basement, while Mary typed forms for him upstairs. Mary was also a part-time sales associate at the JCPenney store in Roseville for 13 years. Their daughter, Vicki Flannigan, said, “Gaining wealth was never important to our parents, but family and faith was important.”
The Kirschs were devout Catholics. In fact, Mary attended daily Mass until she married at age 21, and resumed doing so when she retired from JCPenney. They were active parishioners for 53 years at Maternity of Mary. They were extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, went to Eucharistic Adoration together each week, and helped plan the Cana dinners. “We teased Dad because his pants always had holes in the knees from praying all the Rosaries,” their daughter, Karen Cossack, wrote.
“They always struck me as a couple very much in love,” the Kirschs’ pastor, Father Peter Williams, said. “They were faithful, devoted, and possessed a good sense of humor. I appreciated how they lived their vows, and the manner in which they raised their daughters.”
What’s the secret to a long marriage?
Their daughter Vicki said, “Our parents had a beautiful, married life. The perfect marriage, really. I cannot recall any disrespect or quarreling among those two.”
What was their secret to marital bliss?
Their children think it was a combination of a many things. They only had one plain TV set and seemed to somehow agree on the channel. Perhaps the simple life of one TV and two recliners aided in their success? As they aged, they continued to be active–in their faith, and with other things. They took walks around the block together all year round, never walking without the other. They played tennis and golf almost daily and went on 38 cruises together. Yep, 38! Gene would often get up on the ship’s stage and play the piano for people. He liked to sing, too–real loudly; at church, and at other places as well. Once, during a relative’s wedding reception, Gene took the microphone from the DJ and serenaded Mary with the song It had to be you. Their daughter, Karen, wrote: “When the DJ asked them to reveal the secret of their long marriage, Mom just responded, “Love.”
Vicki wrote in an email:
“The key word for their successful marriage is ‘compliment.’ In my entire childhood and adult life, I can vividly recall both of them complimenting each other all the time! Dad complimented on every meal, nearly every bite! I believe that sometimes the food wasn’t all that delicious but dad still found the part of the meal that he would compliment her on — maybe just the fact that the food was served warm! She would compliment him on all his talents — piano playing, singing, being such a great conversationalist, speaking German, etc.”
In sickness and in health
Five years ago, Mary was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and it progressed fairly quickly, especially the type of dementia which is linked with this disease. Gene had a pace maker, but was still doing well. When their parents’ health first started this decline, their daughters turned their childhood home into a care facility. They organized meals for them and brought them to Mass at Maternity of Mary each week. Every day, the daughters made sure that one of them was there to check on their parents and visit with them. They had an excellent system in place.
All eight of the Kirsch grandchildren helped take care of Grandma and Grandpa, too. For example, Bridget Flannigan (age 29), a professional stylist, did Grandma’s hair and nails regularly. Katie King, age 23, a nurse at the Amplatz Children’s Hospital, checked her grandparents’ blood pressure and monitored their other medical needs–she also prayed with them.
On March 14 of this year, Mary fell in her home and fractured her tail bone. She was brought to the hospital and it was decided that she needed transitional care just long enough to recuperate. She was there for two weeks, and each morning the daughters brought their dad to the facility to visit and recite the Rosary. But Mary failed to thrive, and was not eating much.
Easter was on March 31st of this year (2013). While Mary was at the healthcare facility, twenty or so members from the Kirsch family accompanied Gene to Mass at Maternity of Mary. After Masses at their church, it is a tradition that the congregation prays an Our Father, a Hail Mary and a Glory Be for the next parishioner to pass away. Little did the Kirsch family know that they were all praying for Eugene–he was to meet his heavenly reward later that week.
However, before he passed on, Gene continued to visit his wife. In fact, the whole family piled into their cars after Easter Mass and paid Mary a joyful visit. “My mom and dad kissed on Easter and had a wonderful day surrounded by children and grandchildren,” wrote Karen. But Gene wasn’t quite himself while his bride was in the facility. It was so sad for him to see the love of his life suffering. Two days after Easter–while Gene was sitting beside his wife–she slumped forward into his lap, unresponsive. His beloved wife never spoke or opened her eyes again. The family was called together to pray the Rosary at Mary’s bedside. They knew the end was near, and prayed that it would be peaceful.
The next day, the family made the decision to move both Mary and Gene into the Shoreview Senior Living Center with the intention of having them together. Mary received hospice care while their daughters began the difficult task of planning for her funeral. “In the nursing home, when I was reading Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscover Catholicism, to my parents, we all cried together. I felt both of their hearts were open and ready for God’s will,” said Karen.
A happy ending
Two days later, on the night of April 5, Gene and Mary were at the care center in their new beds–which were right next to each other. Some of their daughters were in sleeping bags on the floor. During the night, Gene got up to get a glass of water. In mid stride, he passed on–gently sinking to the ground as if he were carried in the arms of Jesus. “We thought God would take our mother first,” Vicki said, “and we knew that would be too hard on Dad.”
But God works in mysterious ways, and the Kirsch daughters now know that it was best that their father went first. They told their mother to look for Dad’s hand and go to heaven.
Two days later, Mary passed away peacefully. She had been anointed by Fr. Williams who had just returned from Italy. Mary and Gene–who loved to do everything together—were laid to rest on the same day. The Maternity of Mary altar was still decorated with the lovely Easter flowers that Mary admired each season. “They were a wonderful couple, something of a fixture at Maternity of Mary for decades,” Fr. Williams said. “They were likable and endearing. It was an honor for me to preside over their double funeral Mass – the first time such a thing has occurred for me in my nine years of serving as a priest.”