Retired Kansas City teacher on pension leaves mystery $2 million

Anna Kurzweil (center) at age 14 in a family photograph.
Anna Kurzweil (center) at age 14 in a family photograph. Religion News Service

The girl’s face shines brightest of the bunch in an old family photo taken around 1926.

Anna Kurzweil is 14. She stands in the middle, white lace dress, eyes peering forward, seemingly eager for a life yet lived.

Today, looking back at the same photo and knowing her story, she stands there like a novel’s young heroine. Chapters of lost love, far lands, lonely poetry, devotion and mystery not yet written.

Kurzweil grew up on a Grandview farm, entered a convent, left to be with her sick mother, worked in a leper colony and traveled the world. For most of this full life, which ended at age 100, she carried the broken heart of a young woman spurned by a beau.

In her journal she wrote, “It ended. All things ended. I suffered greatly.”

And finally, the mystery. Somehow, Kurzweil, who according to family members never earned more than $20,000 a year as a teacher and then lived on a thousand-dollar-a-month pension while taking care of her ailing mother, left $2 million to the Society of Jesus, a Catholic order whose members are known as Jesuits.

She had been a longtime member of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, a parish at 1001 E. 52nd St., near Rockhurst University. She lived in a small house nearby, and priests from Rockhurst came regularly to give her mother communion.

Even relatives, who say the money had to be the result of wise investing, were surprised at the recently announced cash gift. Kurzweil, who died in 2012, never married and had no children.

“Nobody knew she had that kind of money,” said John Van De Vyvere, a nephew who lives in Raytown. “I think even the people at the bank were surprised.”

John Fitzpatrick, a provincial assistant for the Jesuits, told Religion News Services that Kurzweil had “exemplified the power of planned giving” and that the gift was unrestricted, meaning the order may use the money however it wishes.

The Rev. Luke Byrne, who had been at St. Francis Xavier in the 1970s, remembered Kurzweil as independent and faithful. He, too, was caught off guard when he learned of her final gift.

“Not that she gave it to the church, but that she had it to give anyone,” Byrne, who has retired, said from St. Louis. “This was a working-class parish, and I certainly don’t remember her weekly offering standing out.”

Family members say she was sharp and thrifty — along with strong-willed and a few other adjectives for someone who had to have things her way.

“But that came from living by herself all those years,” said Harold Kurzweil, another nephew. “She was a good person.”

Anna Kurzweil’s will also included $5,000 for each of several nieces and nephews. Not bad, one relative said.

“But it’s not $2 million, either.”

Kurzweil grew up the youngest of eight kids on a farm in the Grandview area. After college at Warrensburg, she became a schoolteacher. It was in 1935 that she had her heart broken by a fellow teacher.

“Then,” she wrote in her journal, “I made my commitment to live for God.”

After working in a defense plant during World War II, she joined the Sisters of Loretto. But she left the order in 1954 to care for her mother. Family members say she lived with conflict over the decision to leave the convent from that point on.

After her mother’s death, Kurzweil returned to teaching. She also traveled, and not always for pleasure. She spent six weeks working in a leper colony in New Guinea.

After retirement from teaching, Kurzweil lived out her years in the little house near Rockhurst.

Harold Kurzweil said he saw her two or three times a year.

“She had gone through a lot and by that time lived pretty much like an old maid,” he said.

A full life, yes, but probably not what the 14-year-old girl in the old photo was looking for.

Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182