Death of theater professor jars community

September 18, 2018
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
Cathy Hurst

Cathy Hurst

Professor Cathy Hurst, who taught theater and directed in the Saint Michael’s College Fine Arts Department from 1994-2017, died Sunday, September 16, according to her longtime colleague and friend Peter Harrigan, who shared the news with faculty in an email Monday.

“Cathy was diagnosed with an inoperable frontal lobe brain tumor in early August, which her doctors hoped could be managed/reduced with intensive chemotherapy,” Harrigan wrote.

“Despite Cathy’s generous and positive nature, she was intensely private in some respects and didn’t want the news of her diagnosis to be shared widely,” he said. “She didn’t want to worry people. John Devlin and I struggled with whether/ how/ if to tell colleagues and students about her illness, but were comforted a little by the fact that she had a good treatment prognosis. Clearly things changed. By respecting her wishes, the news of her passing becomes all the more shocking.”

Harrigan said he and Devlin, also a theater faculty member and friend of Hurst, decided to provide an opportunity late Monday afternoon for people – particularly current students – “to process this news, and share stories about Cathy, in the place where we worked with her – the McCarthy Theatre.” About 50 of Hurst’s friends came together on very short notice to share memories of their connections to her, Harrigan said. The group included faculty, staff, representatives from the Edmundite Campus Ministry, the Dean’s Office, the President’s Office, local Saint Michael’s theater alums, and members of the classes of 2019 and 2020. “Many shared stories about Cathy’s spark and creativity, and the ways in which her classes and productions transformed them as artists and people,” Harrigan said.. A more formal campus memorial service will be planned for a later date.

In her role as a veteran theater professor, director of numerous student productions for Saint Michael’s College and leader in regional college theater activity, Hurst in 2014-15 received the most prestigious regional award of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), and was presented her Kennedy Center Medallion at a VIP dinner in January 2015 in Hyannis, MA. According to regional officials who wrote to inform her of the honor — one was Devlin, then a co-chair of this region and himself a former winner of the Medallion — the award “is considered one of the great honors in theatre education.”

Hurst received her bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN, and then studied at the Catholic University of America before completing an M.F.A. in acting from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. She was artistic director for the Equity Saint Michael’s Playhouse from 1997 to 2003, and had been involved in numerous theater enterprises nationwide as a director, actor and educator through the decades. At Saint Michael’s and elsewhere she taught courses for actors and singers both at the graduate and undergraduate level. Hurst also had many director credits across the U.S. too numerous to mention, and a long record of professional and community service.

Harrigan said a colleague shared the following words with him about Hurst on Monday:  “I hope you will say something about how funny Cathy was, how she would hold onto good stories anticipating telling them (like the recent one about asking for a pizza muffin from the hospital cafeteria), how generous she was and also how honest. How she loved to cook for people. How she loved to celebrate others and help others shine. How dedicated she was to her students. How her brother’s death was a huge blow for her in her adult life, but also how finding Robert about 15 years ago, who was her brother’s high school friend, was one of the best things that happened to both of them. She loved Saint Michael’s but it was such a good decision of hers to leave when she did so she could be with Robert in their new home in Pittsburgh.”

Donations can be made in memory of Cathy Hurst to the Saint Michael’s College Theatre Department, either mailed to Saint Michael’s College, One Winooski Park, Box 255, Colchester, VT 05439, or made online at smcvt.edu/giveback.

If you give online, you will be asked how your gift should be directed. Please select “other” and type in Memory of Cathy, or Theatre.”

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