Sister Kathleen Cleary, who spent several decades at St. Margaret Mary’s Church and School in Chino, dies Saturday at age 80

Sister Kathleen Cleary

(Photo courtesy Pape Funeral Home)

Sister Kathleen Cleary, a prominent fixture for several decades at St. Margaret Mary Church and School in Chino, died Saturday, April 24 at Alverno Senior Care Community Nursing Home in Clinton, Iowa, her family announced Monday.

Sr. Cleary, 80, served for more than 40 years at St. Margaret Mary as librarian, counselor, teacher and assistant principal.

In January 2019, Sr. Cleary escaped injury after the convent she lived in since 1978 on the St. Margaret Mary property on Central Avenue caught fire.

She lost all of her possessions but exclaimed “I gave all that stuff to God. He can do with it what He wants. I have this prayer that I say, ‘Dear Jesus, I surrender this stuff to you. You take care of it’… It’s one of my favorite prayers.”

She retired in November 2019 to live at The Canticle at the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton. She moved to The Alverno in July 2020.

She was born October 23, 1940 in Columbus, Ohio and was the eldest of the 12 children of Patrick Joseph and Ruth Mae (Ware) Cleary.  

She had three brothers, Patrick, Philip John, and Anthony; and eight sisters, Mary Nell, Marjorie, Charla, Teresa, Sheila, Ruth Ann, Molly, and Emma Lucretia.

Sr. Cleary entered the Sisters of St. Francis at Mount St. Clare Convent in Clinton, Iowa on Sept. 8, 1958 and received the name Mary Philip at her reception on June 15, 1959.  

She later resumed her baptismal name, making her first profession on August 12, 1961 and her final profession on August 12, 1964. 

She completed elementary, middle and the first two years of high school at Catholic schools in Colorado prior to graduating from Mount St. Clare Academy in 1958. 

She received bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa, and later completed a Master of Arts degree in Religious Education at The University of Seattle in Washington.  

Sr. Cleary also earned a Master of Science degree in Counseling and Psychology from California Baptist University in Riverside and held an Iowa Professional Teaching Certificate.

She taught first and second grades at St. Mary’s School in Carrollton, Missouri from 1961-69, and was director of the Mount St. Clare Preschool for the next eight years.  

For the remainder of her active ministry, she was missioned in California.  

She taught primary grade children at St. Margaret Mary School in Chino and at St. Catherine of Alexandria in Riverside.  

She also directed the Extended Day Program at St. Catherine’s in Riverside.

After her retirement, she continued to minister to everyone around her through her cheerful spirit, her positive attitude, and her openness to all she met, her family said.

Sr. Kathleen was preceded in death by her parents, her sister Charla, and her brother-in-law Robert Holmes, as well as her great aunts Clinton Franciscans Sr. Brendan, Sr. Winefride, and Mother Regis Cleary.

She is survived by her brothers, Patrick (Chris), Philip John (Jill), and Anthony Edward (Joyce) Cleary; her sisters, Mary Nell Cleary, Marjorie Holmes, Teresa Margiotti, Sheila (Gary) Saxton, Ruth Ann (Thomas) Marsh, Molly Cleary, and Emma Lucretia Foster; nieces and nephews and the Sisters of St. Francis with whom she shared life for over 62 years.  

Online condolences may be left at

A private Mass will be held.  Burial will be in St. Irenaeus Calvary Cemetery.  The Pape Funeral Home is assisting.

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