Catherine Pessaro Francis, born January 7, 1937, to Andrew Pessaro and Helyn Anderson Pessaro; wife of John Francis; mother of Catherine, Julia, Jane and Andrew. Cay, as she became known, lived her entire life in Catonsville. She attended St. Agnes Grade School, graduated from Trinity High School for Girls in Ilchester, and attended Villa Julie College. When Cay was only 13, her mother, Helyn, was stricken with polio and was hospitalized for nine months. At that point, Cay, as an only child, took over all the responsibilities of the household. This was a pivotal event in Cay's life-early on she became a young woman who would truly care...
Catherine Pessaro Francis, born January 7, 1937, to Andrew Pessaro and Helyn Anderson Pessaro; wife of John Francis; mother of Catherine, Julia, Jane and Andrew.
Cay, as she became known, lived her entire life in Catonsville. She attended St. Agnes Grade School, graduated from Trinity High School for Girls in Ilchester, and attended Villa Julie College.
When Cay was only 13, her mother, Helyn, was stricken with polio and was hospitalized for nine months. At that point, Cay, as an only child, took over all the responsibilities of the household. This was a pivotal event in Cay's life-early on she became a young woman who would truly care for the people in her life, always putting others above her own needs.
Shortly after graduating from Trinity, Cay met and married her husband of nearly 56 years, John Francis. Theirs truly was a match made in heaven; two very different people, who met, fell in love and shared a lifetime of joy and happiness. They built a wonderful life together, working hard to provide a loving and happy home for their four children.
Cay was very devoted to her Catholic faith, values and beliefs. She carried a lifetime pride in being a graduate of Trinity High School, organizing her class reunions through the fall of 2011, well beyond the half century mark. Throughout their married life, John would refer to Cay as always being "a Trinity girl".
Her devotion to her Catholic faith also played a part in the way she lived her life. Cay spent countless hours volunteering in church and in her children's schools, often chairing or organizing large scale events. She passed her faith and morals on to her children, filling their home not only with love and laughter, but with values and integrity. She taught them the value of hard work and of being productive and independent.
She also taught her children and grandchildren how to play and how to enjoy life. She built snowmen with them, made them tents, paddled in the kayak at the Outer Banks, rode in the inner tube at Deep Creek Lake, clapped with them at the July 4th parades. She loved and appreciated every single day, finding joys and blessings in everything around her. She made every holiday special. She cooked everyone's favorite meals on their birthdays, and put unbelievable thought into every gift, every card, and every package to be wrapped. She cared, more than anything; she cared so deeply, for her family and friends.
Cay eventually became grandmother to 13 grandchildren and her love and heart grew ever bigger as she welcomed each new member of the family into the warmth and happiness of her world. One of her greatest joys was attending her children's and grandchildren's school, religious and sporting events. She never wanted to miss anything!
Even as she filled her days with her family and career, Cay also continued a very full social life. She loved to play Mah Jongg with her Mah Jongg club and also with her grandchildren. She organized and attended breakfasts and luncheons within her various friendship circles. She enjoyed attending musicals and plays, and dinner parties with John and their friends.
Throughout her life, Cay was constantly helping others-friends, neighbors, church members and the needy throughout the community. She loved to knit, sharing her talents by knitting countless scarves for the homeless throughout the year, creating on average a scarf a week, right through this past Christmas season. She also served dinners alongside John at their American Legion.
Until this past fall, Cay continued to help keep Butch Hannon's Clown Alley Foundation financially on track. A foundation begun in 1960, it supplies food and gifts annually to approximately 15-20 needy families in the Catonsville/Baltimore area each Christmas.
Always wanting to learn and do more, to stay busy and productive, Cay began to pursue even more interests. One was learning to quilt. She eventually made quilts for all of her children and grandchildren, each one lovingly individualized and hand-stitched, each one specifically planned with special patterns, themes and fabrics.
Another was going back to school to learn sign language. Once again, this was due to Cay's kindness and caring for others. She had a good friend who was hearing impaired, and she wanted to learn to speak with her. As a result, Cay continued her education, eventually becoming an American Sign Language Interpreter for the Deaf. Traveling throughout the state, Cay not only interpreted for students, patients, and citizens in many different situations, she also, because of her caring and sincere nature, became a friend and confidant to many of them. Later, Cay worked as an interpreter at the former Catonsville Community College.
Gardening was another one of Cay's deep passions. She spent countless hours creating true works of art. Her gardens were absolutely stunning. In an almost park-like setting, there were benches all over the yard, to sit and enjoy the beauty Cay created all around her. She loved to spend time working with the earth. She said it was when she liked to pray and to think; that it was a wonderful way to be with God and with nature.
Throughout her illness, Cay never complained. She fought a brave battle, never losing the faith that was instilled in her from childhood. She continued to show us her spirit of faith and appreciation for life. She wasn't ready to leave us, but she never got angry. She remained faithful and trusting, always.
At the time of her grandson Matt's death, Cay wrote letters to Matt's sisters. In one of the letters she wrote the following:
"Our path in life has many twists and turns but it still leads us on. Some twists and turns are happy and good while some are sad and make us unhappy. I think the trick is to not get so caught up in the unhappy twists that we forget to keep going and find the happy twists and turns. We must keep on going and follow our path. Our turn on the path with Matt was happy, wild and crazy while it lasted and that is what we must take with us-the happy part and also thanks that we had him-even though only for a short time. Suppose we had never had Matt-that would be even sadder-never to have known or had him. So keep on your path-life still gives us new beginnings in its twists and turns. I like to think that Matt is leading each of us now to another turn on our path."
Even though at the time Cay was speaking of her grandson, we can read these words now as if Cay is speaking directly to all of us. And we can also think of Cay in those same terms. Despite the unhappy twists and turns of life, she would be telling us to keep on, finding the happier paths, and remembering those wonderful ones that we've already traveled.
Cay and John loved to travel-by car, by ship, by plane. They especially loved their trips to Italy and Ireland. But their favorite way to go was in the car, traveling literally near and far, together. As her beloved John said, "this time, Cay had to get off a stop ahead" of him. Yet while this is sad for those of us left behind, it is just the opposite for those who have been waiting for her to arrive-Cay has gotten off at her next stop, and without doubt when she did, there was great rejoicing all around her! Truly, our loss is Heaven's gain.
Cay is survived by her husband John; children and spouses Cathy and Grant Menefee, Julie Francis, Jane and Tommy Perkins, Andy Francis; and grandchildren Emilie, Luke and John Menefee, Sarah and Tracie Snyder, Tommy, Heather, Billy and Catie Perkins, and Drew and Kayla Francis. She was predeceased by grandchildren LCpl. Matthew Snyder and Lauren Francis.
Memorial donations may be made to Gilchrist Hospice Care, 11311 McCormick Road, Suite 350, Hunt Valley, MD 21031, in memory of Catherine Francis, or to The 1st Marine Division of Maryland, c/o Treasurer Edison Tecco, 609 Oak Hill Road, Catonsville, MD 21228, in memory of LCpl Matthew Snyder.
Family will receive friends at Sterling Ashton Schwab Witzke Funeral Home of Catonsville, Inc., 1630 Edmondson Ave., Catonsville, MD 21228 on Thursday from 2 to 5 and 7 to 9pm. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Agnes Catholic Church, 5422 Old Frederick Rd., Baltimore, MD 21229 on Friday at 11am. Interment Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery at 1pm.