“The Almighty has done great things for me.”

In 2007, at the time of her Golden Jubilee, Sister Judith echoed Our Lady’s proclamation in her own inimitable style, “Wow! Fifty years! The Almighty has done wonderful things for me and with me. The joys, bumps and bruises along the way have been spiritually deepening and maturing. To all other Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, past and present, thanks for keeping me.”

On November 21, 1938, Judith Irene was born in Lake Leelanau, Michigan, the second daughter of Dennis and Mildred Hahnenberg Kirt. She described her childhood as “outdoorsy,” and it was while hunting and fishing in the northern woods that she felt most at home.

Judith attended St. Mary’s School for both elementary and high school. When the principal came into her third grade classroom one day and asked the girls how many wanted to be a Sister, all hands went up – except Judith’s. She put her head down and hoped no one would notice. She did not want to be a Sister, she wanted to be a cowgirl!

That desire changed years later. When one of the Sisters in the Lake Leelanau convent died, Judith felt a strong call to be her replacement in religious life. Her sense of vocation was intensified during a retreat when the retreat master referred to the courage of Judith in the Old Testament story. Judith challenged herself to likewise be brave in pursuing what she determined was God’s will for her.

On September 8, 1956, Judith entered the congregation at Marywood. In her own words she was “scared, having the impulse to run the other way.” Although feeling mighty scared, she soon recognized she loved the life and knew it was what she was looking for all along. She admired and appreciated the directors of her postulant and novitiate years and was grateful for the patience and encouragement of Sister Patricia Clare and Sister Cecile during these formative years.

She was given the name Sister Dennis Marie of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at the time of her Reception into the Novitiate. She continued her studies at Aquinas College where she majored in Biology. She was soon certified in secondary education by the Michigan Department of Education. While teaching in Saginaw, Sister Judith also worked in the laboratory department at St. Mary’s Hospital during the summer months. Through this experience and further study, she became a histologic technician certified by the American Medical Association. Always interested in the practical and helpful professions, she later became a certified locksmith through a mail-order course. Judith was talented in woodworking and carpentry and became known fondly as Sister Fix-it, a title she enjoyed.

Her first two years of teaching were in fourth grade. After that she taught either in high school or junior high as well as assuming the responsibilities of administration. For over a decade she happily taught at SS. Peter and Paul in Saginaw and referred to these years as among the most joyful of her life. In 1976, she became principal and high school teacher on Beaver Island where her love for the outdoors was a bonus feature in which she could readily indulge.

Next, Sister Judith was principal at St. Francis High School, Traverse City, and then taught one year at Muskegon Catholic Central. Finally, she began nearly two decades of teaching at St. Michael, Brunswick. It was from this mission that she retired from teaching in 2001.

This did not mean retiring from serving the needs of others. In the summer of 2001, she began a ministry of foot care. For the next ten years, Sister Judith offered the work of her strong hands to bring comfort and foot health to many. She also provided transportation and other support services as needed.

A woman of few words, Sister Judith enjoyed the contemplative hobbies of wood-working, photography, gardening, jigsaw puzzles, and her long-time favorites: fishing and hunting. She built her own furniture for her residence at Aquinata Hall and served as a “watchman” for that building until its renovation.

Never sentimental, but always respectful of the natural world, she stocked her refrigerator and freezer with food she herself had culled and harvested, preferring venison, quail, rabbit and even squirrel to anything one could purchase wrapped in cellophane and sitting on a Styrofoam tray. She was so close to Earth, she liked to remind everyone that her name was Kirt which rhymed with “dirt.” Humor aside, Judith treated all life with the utmost respect and profound gratitude.

Having survived cancer of the mouth, she continued supporting and then leading the monthly prayer service on the Marywood Campus for cancer survivors. Judith lived Dominican life with gratitude for her vocation and her companions. She wrote that her only desire was to be a good religious for God. She knew the way to obtain that goal was to abide in love, because, she said, “love is God.”

In her life of service, humility, humor and hard work Judith was a good religious and a faithful servant of God. She attained her goal and is now reaping her reward.

Sister Judith is survived by her sister: Patricia (Patrick) Gardner and her brother Michael (Barb) Kirt of Lake Leelanau, MI and her sister Rebecca “Becky” Kirt of Hay Market, VA; nieces, nephews, many friends, and members of her Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids Community.