August 20, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 21
Kitty Barnett and Father John David Ramsey, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Newport News, where she has been a member for over 50 years.
Volunteer ‘embodies history of the parish’
Kitty Barnett, a faithful member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Newport News since 1954 and a parish receptionist for more than 25 years, seems to be one known by nearly every member of the OLMC community.
Having been here for so long, it’s easy to imagine she must have been born and bred right here in Hampton Roads. She’s actually originally from Cumberland, Maryland, where she was born Catherine Christina Farsfield on June 24, 1920.
She picked up the nickname Kitty years later, while she was living in Washington DC, from a co-worker at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
He was the other gentleman on a double date one night and simply decided that Catherine was no longer a suitable name for her. He settled upon Kitty and the next day promptly encouraged all of their co-workers to call her only by her new nickname. It didn’t take long for it to stick.
It was while she was working for the FBI that she met her husband, Charlie Barnett, and the two of them moved to Norfolk in 1943 after their honeymoon.
Shortly thereafter, he was promoted and transferred to Newport News as a reward for capturing a spy who at the time was in charge of all Communist activity in the area that had been underground since 1937.
Over the course of their marriage, they had five children; three sons and two daughters, who have given them six grandchildren.
Kitty comes from a devout Catholic family, having many relatives who went on to become nuns and priests and even a cousin who became Bishop Francis Murphy of Baltimore.
After moving to Newport news, she attended various Catholic parishes before Our Lady of Mt. Carmel opened in 1953. She joined just a year later and has been with this parish community ever since.
In 1987 Carmelite Father Lucas Schmidt, then pastor, asked Kitty if she would be available to work as a receptionist for the parish office on Mondays and Fridays. She hadn’t worked since she was married and was a little hesitant. But the timing was just right and she knew that God had provided this opportunity for her.
Over her many years at OLMC, some of the major developments to the church and parish community that stand out to Kitty include the building of the school in 1954, the construction of the main Church in 1986 (they had previously held Mass in the school gym), and the renovation to the parish office building, once a simple farmhouse.
She and other parishioners had to adjust to the staffing of diocesan priests after the Carmelites left the area in 1990, and the ever-changing leadership as different priests became pastor over the years.
Through it all, one thing that has never changed is Kitty’s ever-faithful, inspiring presence at OLMC.
Janet Hassan, the OLMC pastoral associate who has known Kitty since ’93, referred to a popular joke around the parish that “Kitty’s either driven them to school or changed their diapers.”
“I mean, you can’t bring up a name she doesn’t know.” Ms. Hassan quipped.
The newly installed pastor Father John David Ramsey agrees.
“For me, she embodies the history of the parish,” he said, reflecting on how significant she is to the community. She is still active in parish life. She was a lector for many years, took the Eucharist to the sick, helped polish and restore many of the brass sacramentals of the church, and was longtime chairperson of the St. Theresa Guild.
She still participates in The Soul Sisters, an intergenerational faith and social group, Adult Faith Formation classes, delivering Meals on Wheels, supporting the outreach ministries of the parish, and catching up with her breakfast buddies after Mass.
Asked what her secret is to staying young despite being 92, Kitty said that she has a mantra to simply “Keep on keeping on, until you can’t.”
“You know, when you get older, your body is going to have pains, but you can either choose to give into it, or just keep on going through it,” she said.
She says she is also enlivened by being around the youth of the parish, and has a sense of humor that would brighten anyone’s mood.
“She is for me... a sign of hope,” Ms. Hassan said. “She’s an amazing example of aging with grace. She doesn’t get down.”
“Anyone who meets Kitty is inspired by not only her perseverance, but also by her faith. She’s remained faithful to the Church her whole life, prays daily, and, of course, has a devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Kitty’s faith is clearly important to her.
“I’m so glad that I am a Catholic because everything that’s happened to me, even some of the bad things... it was my faith that pulled me through it all,” she said.
Father Ramsey is encouraged by her joyful spirit and said that she truly is a testimony of faith to him and so many others.
“With all that she has done and is still doing in this vibrant parish community, it’s no wonder she has the ability to bring a smile to anyone she meets,” he said.
Ms. Hassan summed it up when she said, “It will be hard to imagine the parish without her. She’s like an icon.”