Kirk Gaddy, black Catholic educator and father figure to many, dies suddenly at 55

Dr. Kirk P. Gaddy speaks at the 2018 Mother Mary Lange Awards banquet. (Courtesy Darron C. Woodus)

One of the final works of mercy of Dr. Kirk P. Gaddy’s life as a Catholic educator occurred June 13, when he helped transform St. Frances Academy into an impromptu cooling station for a Black Lives Matter protest.

Gaddy, 55, suffered a heart attack the next day, and died unexpectedly June 20. A lifelong parishioner of Historic St. Francis Xavier in Baltimore and major influence in the education of black youths from pre-K to college, Gaddy was in his second stint on the staff at St. Frances Academy, where he had been in the class of 1983.

“We were graduating kids individually (June 13), and couldn’t leave campus because the roads were blocked by protest traffic around the prison,” said Deacon Curtis Turner, principal/head of school. “It was a hot day, and Kirk made the most of the situation. He helped people cool off. That’s my last memory of him.”

That protest wound around the Baltimore City Detention Center on to Eager Street, where Gaddy’s life as a catechist, teacher, scholar, administrator and advocate for the Oblate Sisters of Providence had its roots.

His four older brothers include Redemptorist Father Kenneth Gaddy, associate pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus/Sagrado Corazón de Jesús in Highlandtown. Their parents, John and Beatrice, headed a home that included two of her sisters and their children, 15 people all told in a rowhome on Eager Street.

“There was a lot of noise, as you can expect,” Father Gaddy said. “There was also a lot of support and encouragement.”

All the Gaddy children attended Catholic K-8 schools, Ss. James and John for Kirk. In 2008, he recounted to the Catholic Review how he and his siblings spent Saturdays cleaning the schools they attended, and how he helped mow the grass at Redemptorist cemeteries.

Dr. Kirk Gaddy served as vice president of the Delta Lambda Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. (Courtesy Alpha Phi Alpha)

“It’s something they instilled in us very early on,” Gaddy told the Review, of his parents’ sense of service.

He went on to St. Frances Academy, the oldest Catholic school in the U.S. founded for black children, by Mother Mary Lange and the Oblate Sisters of Providence in 1828.

“The Oblate Sisters had a tremendous influence on his life,” Father Gaddy said. “The Oblate Sisters run through his veins.”

Sister Rita Michelle Proctor, the general superior of the order, taught Religion and Physical Education to Gaddy when he was in the ninth grade.

“His spirit of generosity, and caring for others, was already there, not only at St. Frances Academy, but at our convent,” she said. “He would go there after school to help Sister Brenda Motte, who coordinated the convent. Even when he was 13, you could depend on him.

“When he became principal at St. Katharine, he posted a message. ‘You enter to learn, and you leave to serve.’ It’s a powerful statement, one I’ve borrowed. … For all of his degrees and awards, he lived a life of Providence. I believe he was motivated by the spirit of Mother Mary Lange.”

Gaddy served as president of the Mother Lange Guild. In February, he served one last time as MC at the 23rd annual Mother Lange Awards, held by the archdiocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministries.

Gaddy earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in history, from what is now Loyola University Maryland in 1987. Two years later, he earned a master’s degree in educational curriculum and instruction from Loyola. In 2004, he earned a doctorate in education leadership from NOVA Southeastern University in North Miami.

“His goodness, kindness, compassion, concern for the have-nots and the poor … he would do anything for the poor,” Father Gaddy said. “At the center of the conversation was the Gospel of liberation, and Kirk knew that the way to liberation is through education. He felt he would have the greatest impact there.”

Gaddy’s first job out of Loyola College was back at St. Frances Academy, as a teacher and dean of students. He served as assistant principal of St. Katharine School, 1990-94;  as principal of St. Alphonsus-Basilica School, 1994-98; and principal of St. Katharine School, 1998-2008.

In 2008, he became a founder, CEO and headmaster of the Bluford Drew Jemison-STEM Academy. In 2012, he took an administrator’s role at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring. He began teaching at Xavier University in Louisiana’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies in 2008, and became its associate director in 2014.

A year ago, Gaddy returned to St. Frances Academy as assistant principal. He was to become principal for the 2020-21 school year, with Deacon Turner becoming the school’s president on a full-time basis.

Dr. Kirk P. Gaddy (left), then principal of St. Katharine School in Baltimore, is shown with students from his school and the former Mother Mary Lange Catholic School in Baltimore as they represented Maryland in the National Project Citizen Showcase in Boston in 2007. (CR file)

“He was the definition of tough love,” Deacon Turner said. “Many of our students come to us unchurched. One day a student did something disrespectful in our daily chapel, which he ran. Kirk was able to impart why it was disrespectful, and instill a sense of wonder and awe in the kid within an hour.”

The young St. Frances Academy educators under Gaddy’s tutelage included his son, Kirk E. Gaddy, class of 2012, who always saw his father’s stabilizing presence.

“When I was in the first grade (at Ss. James and John), one of my friends didn’t have a Dad in his life,” the younger Gaddy said. “Mine stepped right into that role. He was a father figure to so many of his kids at St. Katharine.

“When I was a freshman at St. Frances Academy, the baseball team won the (C Conference) championship game. It was played at Calvert Hall. He took the whole team to Red Robin afterward, and paid for everyone. He wasn’t just my father. He was everyone’s father.”

An RCIA instructor, Gaddy’s professional development included reaching level three of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Equip for Ministry training, in 1990. He  contributed to “Keep on Teaching,” which served as a manual for the African-American Community; “What We Have Seen and Heard-Essays and Stories from Black Catholics of Baltimore”; the African American Catholic Youth Bible; and the Africentric column that ran in the Catholic Review when it was a weekly publication.

His substantial volunteer efforts, his brother noted, included teaching at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

At Historic St. Francis Xavier, Gaddy served as parish council president and for 16 years was chairman of the board of its Head Start program. He also served on the boards of the Institute of Notre Dame and the Cardinal Shehan School. In addition to their son, Gaddy and his wife, Crystalyn, raised two daughters, Courtney and Kirby.

“Our time is not always lined up with God’s,” said Gaddy’s son, of the suddenness of his passing. “We have to remember his legacy and what he stood for.”

In order to accommodate larger gatherings with social distancing in place, a  funeral Mass will be offered July 3, at 11 a.m., in the St. Frances Academy gym. Visitation will also be there July 2, 2-8 p.m.

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Paul McMullen

Paul McMullen

Paul McMullen has served as the managing editor of the Catholic Review since 2008.

The author of two books, Paul has been involved in local media since age 12, when he began delivering The News American to 80 homes in his neighborhood. He began his journalism career with the Capital-Gazette Newspapers in Anne Arundel County, and spent more than 25 years as a sports writer for The Sun in Baltimore. His favorite writing assignments have included the Summer Olympics in Australia and Greece, the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and “Feet for Francis,” a 2015 walking pilgrimage from the Baltimore Basilica to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis.