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Mary Jane Grimaldi died of respiratory failure in Kansas City, Mo., on Nov. 25, 2023, shy of her 100th birthday by 34 days.
An indomitable spirit and inspiration to her family, Jane, as she was known, was a proud and devout Roman Catholic, creative homemaker, longtime volunteer and patron to charitable organizations, cherished mother of six children, loving mother-in-law of five, endearing aunt, doting grandmother to 23 grandchildren and loving great-grandmother of seven, her most recent great-granddaughter born in September.
Through her century on earth, Jane lived through 18 presidents, eight popes, five British monarchs, the Great Depression, World War II, the Atomic Age, the Cold War, a presidential assassination and resignation, 9/11, three impeachments and a global pandemic.
Jane volunteered for decades with the Ladies of Charity of Metropolitan Kansas City, spending thousands of hours serving the poor at the Seton Center; and serving the hungry at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist parish). She was an early phone volunteer and newsletter editor for Birthright of Kansas City, founded in the 1970s; and supported Missouri Right to Life and the Vitae Foundation. With her husband, Frank Grimaldi, who died in 2010, she actively supported Serra International, a global organization that promotes vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life; and the Notre Dame Club of Kansas City. They both were members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. They were active parishioners and members of St. Francis Xavier and Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) parishes.
Jane had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She turned to the Mother of God at times of her deepest need, especially the death of her daughter, Mary Maura, to encephalitis caused by measles at the age of 6 in 1963. She later said her shock and sadness were overcome only through prayer and the inspiration that Mary suffered as a witness to the crucifixion and death of her Son. Jane’s despair also led her and Frank, at the suggestion of a nun with whom she was acquainted, to adopt a daughter, Margaret Mary, in 1965, a decision rooted in their pro-life views. The addition of Meg to the family was followed later by seven adopted grandchildren, whom she cherished; and the adoption of two sons by a beloved niece.
Jane said the Virgin Mary also answered her frequent prayers. After smoking for more than 70 years, she prayed for the Virgin Mary’s intercession for help quitting. Her prayers were answered in the most unexpected way: Hospitalization for a fracture and recovery at a medical facility where smoking was prohibited. She declined the offer of a nicotine patch and kicked the habit cold turkey.
Mary Jane (Savary) Grimaldi was born in Little Rock, Ark., on Dec. 29, 1923, to Evedna Hegberg Savary and Thomas Mooney Savary. She was the oldest and last survivor of four children: the Rev. James Richard “Dick” Savary (2015); Thomas “Jack” Savary (2019), and Evedna “Tuts” Savary Duran, her sister 15 years her junior, who died on March 2, 2023.
Jane’s Catholic education deepened her faith. She attended St. Andrew’s Cathedral School in Little Rock, where she was an honor-roll graduate, earning As in all classes, including penmanship. At age 10 in 1933, she wrote a book review and mailed it to the children’s column of the Arkansas Gazette, the first of many writing and journalistic endeavors. She briefly attended Holy Angels Academy in Jonesboro, Ark., where she began a lifelong admiration for Benedictine nuns and priests. In 1939, she enrolled at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock, one of a long line of family members who attended the school affiliated with the Sisters of Mercy.
At Mount St. Mary, Jane was a standout scholar, a member of the National Honor Society, president of her senior class, secretary of the Sodality, librarian of the Glee Club, president of the Press Club, editor of The Mount, feature editor of the Mercian yearbook, and a member of Quill and Scroll. Her senior year yearbook predicted she was most likely to become a foreign correspondent. While that did not occur, her interest in politics, foreign and domestic affairs and the press may have inspired four sons to earn journalism degrees. Each Mount graduate’s yearbook entry included a characterizing quotation. The quote for Jane was from Lord Byron: “A lovely being, scarcely formed or moulded. A rose with all its sweetest leaves yet folded.” She graduated in 1941.
Jane studied for two years at Little Rock Junior College, now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She then enrolled at Mount St. Scholastica College, a Catholic women’s college in Atchison, Kan. At a mixer dance, the Benedictine nuns arranged Jane and other students in rows for men and women, by height, from shortest to tallest. The student in front of Jane asked to switch places “because your guy’s cute.” She initially agreed. But when Jane got a good look at her previously arranged dancing partner, she reclaimed her original place in line. That’s how Jane met Frank Grimaldi, a student at St. Benedict’s College, a Catholic men’s college in Atchison, which later merged with Mount St. Scholastica College to become Benedictine College. They began dating and stayed in touch, even as Frank transferred to Kansas State University and then the University of Notre Dame and as Jane worked as a freelance writer of feature stories for The Guardian diocesan newspaper and The Arkansas Democrat, and at an office job.
After Frank received a degree in architecture from Notre Dame in 1947, he proposed marriage. On Oct. 28, 1948, Mary Jane Savary, wearing a white satin dress with rounded lace yoke outlined with an inset ruffle, married Frank Grimaldi at St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Little Rock. The Arkansas Gazette reported that for travel on their honeymoon to New Orleans, the bride wore a brown velveteen suit and Balenciaga accessories.
The couple settled in Kansas City, Mo. where Frank began a lifelong practice of architecture. Frank and Jane lived the rest of their lives in Kansas City, raising their family and celebrating marriages of five of their six children: Michael Francis (Carol), Thomas Alexander (Mary), Mary Maura (deceased 1963), Gerard Joseph (Julie), James Vincent (Niki Collins) and Margaret Mary “Meg” Braun (Steve Braun, deceased 2014).
Jane was the prototypical mid-century homemaker, serving as a crafts-oriented Cub Scout Den Mother and hosting and participating in the mothers’ clubs at Rockhurst High School and Sigma Chi Fraternity’s Kansas City chapter. She is the last survivor of the Tuesday Club, a luncheon and dinner social group of Catholic parents that began at St. Francis Xavier parish.
She loved to cook, crochet, sew, make potpourri, and follow news and politics. She enjoyed following sporting events involving her grandchildren. She treasured visiting her home state of Arkansas, where she knew how to call the hogs; and she enthusiastically bet on horses in Hot Springs with her mother and longtime friends. At age 92, Jane was the oldest alumnus to attend Mount St. Mary reunion festivities in 2016, which was the 75th anniversary of her high school graduation.
She was Frank’s constant and discerning advisor as he built a six-decade career at the former Shaughnessy, Bower and Grimaldi Architecture, later Frank Grimaldi Architecture. An astute judge of character, Jane proffered strong opinions and counsel, which Frank acknowledged he ignored at his own peril. Jane donated the extensive archive of design and documentary architectural records of Frank’s firm and its predecessor firms to the State Historical Society of Missouri in 2012.
Jane and Frank were active in the Catholic Church. Frank’s architectural firm provided design and construction management services to several dioceses primarily in eastern Kansas and western Missouri, as well as services to institutions sponsored by the Jesuit and Benedictine orders and other Catholic, faith-based and business clients. Even after Frank died, his former clients, such as the Sisters Servants of Mary, remained close to Jane. At the end of her life, the Sisters frequently visited and prayed with and for her, staying with her overnight so that she would not spend those hours alone; and joining family members in an around-the-clock vigil of prayer and song during her final days in hospice. Frank and Jane had lifelong friendships with priests, nuns, bishops, abbots and cardinals. They supported Catholic causes, particularly aid to the poor and immigrants, vocations and pro-life issues. She prominently displayed on the walls of her homes the apostolic papal blessings received from all but one pope since St. John XXIII.
After Frank died in 2010, Jane left the Crestwood neighborhood home where she and Frank lived for six decades and moved to Grand Court, later Brookdale Wornall Place, to be close to many friends who lived there. She maintained a comfortable home and life, joyfully celebrating birthdays and holidays. The family is particularly grateful for the caregivers who assisted Jane in the last year of her life.
Family was foremost to Jane, especially her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She maintained strong relationships with them thanks to social media. She became handy with computers and tablets well into her 90s and knew more about the interests and lives of her family than many probably realized. She remembered and celebrated birthdays, graduations, weddings and births.
Jane is survived by her sons and daughters-in-law Michael (Carol), Tom (Mary) and Gerard (Julie) of Kansas City, Mo.; James (Niki Collins) of Washington, D.C.; daughter Meg Braun of Topeka, Kan.; 22 grandchildren: Joseph, Ellen, Rachel, Al, Delvonta, Stacey, McKenzie, Matthew, Gabrielle, Alexander and Xavier Grimaldi; Ryan, Aaron, Regan, Levi, Anna, and Ginny Braun; Erica (Jacob) Nork, Maureen (Jon) McGuirt, Caroline (Ian) Riese, MaryKate (Brock) Rohlfs, and Lin Marando; and seven great-grandchildren: Eliana, Selah, and Elizabeth Nork; Lucy and Benjamin McGuirt; Caleb Grimaldi, and Penelope Rohlfs. She also was predeceased by one grandchild, Cody Nichols.
Services will be on Saturday, Dec. 9 at St. Francis Xavier Church, 1001 E. 52nd St, Kansas City, Mo. Rosary will be said at 10 a.m., followed by visitation. Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. at the church, followed by graveside services at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Kansas City, Mo.
The family requests donation:
Sisters Servants of Mary, Province of the United States, 800 N. 18th St., Kansas City, KS 66102
Jeanne Jugan Center (Little Sisters of the Poor) , 8745 James A. Reed Road, Kansas City, MO 94138
Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care, 9001 State Line Road, Suite 300, Kansas City, MO 64114
or other charities Jane and Frank supported
Arrangements by Muehlebach Funeral Care, www.muehlebachchapel.com, 816-444-2060.