45 Years after Their Inspiring Teacher Was Murdered,
Former Keough High Students Are Still Asking Why
By Tom Nugent
When Gemma Hoskins was a student at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School back in the late 1960s, she had an English teacher who was “bigger than life” and possessed “a gentle and loving heart.”
That wonderful teacher became a role model for Hoskins, as well as “a symbol of integrity, honesty and strength.”
Indeed, the Keough High student was so inspired by the School Sisters of Notre Dame nun that she went on to become a teacher herself.
During a 36-year career in which she taught at elementary and middle schools in Harford and Baltimore Counties, Hoskins relied on the lessons she’d learned from her teacher at Keough. Fiercely determined and deeply passionate about her own vocation as a teacher, she set the highest standards for herself.
Nobody was surprised when Gemma Hoskins – while teaching fifth-graders at Jarrettsville Elementary – was named the 1992 Maryland Teacher of the Year.
Asked later how she developed the skills and attributes required for excellence in teaching, Hoskins credited her former teacher, “Sister Cathy” – 26-year-old Catherine Ann Cesnik of Pittsburgh, Pa. Said Hoskins: “Those traits [of hers] I have tried to exemplify, no matter what the situation.”
But Sister Cathy also taught Hoskins a lesson about tragedy.
That lesson began in earnest when the gentle nun with the bright smile and the boundless energy was brutally murdered during Gemma’s senior year.
The nun’s mutilated body was found more than 44 years ago – January 3, 1970 – on a garbage dump in Lansdowne, a few miles south of Baltimore.
The case has never been solved.
For nearly half a century, Hoskins and many of her fellow Keough alumni have been wondering why Cathy Cesnik met with such a terrible fate. They’ve also been deeply troubled by numerous allegations that have emerged over the years . . . allegations of widespread sexual abuse at their school which were enumerated in a $40 million, 1990s Baltimore sex-abuse lawsuit and have been frequently reported in the news media.
The carefully documented reports by more than a dozen former Keough students paint a dark picture of rampant sexual abuse at Sister Cathy’s southwest Baltimore Catholic high school – abuse that she reportedly tried to confront and expose during the days right before her mysterious death. Indeed, in recent days, two different witnesses have reported that they visited the nun’s apartment the day before she died . . . and begged her to help stop the sexual abuse. They say she told them she was about to “go public” with her information about the abuse – and then vanished less than 24 hours later.
In an effort to better understand what happened to their beloved teacher, who died after suffering severe head injuries and is buried in a Pittsburgh hillside cemetery, several Keough graduates recently formed a social networking group devoted to learning as much as possible about her unsolved murder.
After creating a Facebook page – “Justice for Catherine Cesnik and Joyce Malecki” (a second Lansdowne murder victim, her killer also never found, who died four days after the nun and who has recently been linked to the same confirmed priest-abuser who reportedly injured at least 20 Keough students during that era), the social activists say they’re hoping to uncover the truth about both of the murders.
Said Gemma Hoskins, while describing the Keough group’s urgent mission: “Cathy was once there for many people and did the right thing.
“Now we all need to try to do the right thing for her.”
Memories of Sister Cathy
After nearly 45 years of hoping that Sister Cathy’s murder would eventually be solved, many of the Keough grads who recently created the “Justice for Sister Cathy and Joyce Malecki” coalition fear they’re running out of time.
“Sister Cathy’s murder has always haunted me,” said Abbie Schaub, a retired nurse and 1970 Keough grad. “They describe her killing as a ‘cold case,’ but it’s never felt cold to me.”
Another 1970 graduate, retired Maryland Human Services Administrator Mary Jo Woods, said that “Sister Cathy was a wonderful teacher who taught us how to think for ourselves. She wrote a lovely play about young girls who are growing up, called ‘Lollipops to Roses.’ She often stayed after school with me to make sure I got caught up.”
Mary Spence, a retired Johns Hopkins Hospital RN, said, “I want to see this case solved, because there are so many people that were affected by it. They need to be able to put it behind them and move on.”
Like her classmates, retired Baltimore-area bookstore manager Susan M. Getka said she was deeply touched by the killing of Sister Cathy. Getka recently wrote a poem about her death, titled “The Pen in the Palm of her Hand.”
. . . God, her head ached now.
What hit her?
A fist, a stone, a hammer?
Fragile bones shattered – flying
a mystery exploding – solved . . .
Her faint thread of consciousness
Enough time to see the pen
to feel her hand touch the grass &
find the tree root.
Her hand rested on it
Her Spirit now in God’s Embrace
Said Getka, “I think Sister Cathy would want her students to speak up about what happened, and to try and help young women who are still being abused today.”
While declining to comment on the unsolved murders of Sister Cathy Cesnik and Joyce Malecki, an FBI spokesperson said that “If anybody has any information about [these cases], they need to call the Baltimore County Police Department cold case unit [at 410-887-3943].
To read the Baltimore County Police Department Unsolved Case Squad report on Sister Cathy Cesnik’s murder: http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/police/homicide/unsolved_homicides/