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Faculty, classmates recall Samantha Kalkbrenner’s life, memory
Students, teachers and members of the McKeesport-area community hold candles during a prayer service Thursday night for Samantha Kalkbrenner. (Photo by Adam Reinherz for Tube City Almanac)
A Thursday evening prayer service in memory of Samantha Kalkbrenner brought hundreds to McKeesport’s Serra Catholic High School.
As hymns were sung and candles held, mourners recalled Kalkbrenner, a 15-year-old sophomore from Dravosburg who died tragically Sept. 20 following a crash between a car and a Serra school van at the intersection of Richland and Third avenues in Dravosburg. Kalkbrenner was a passenger in the van.
Five other people, including three other students, were injured in the collision.
A crowd of perhaps 400 people, including students, teachers, staff and members of the McKeesport community attended the vigil, held at the football stadium on the Haler Heights campus.
“Although she is no longer with us, her life will never be extinguished,” Serra Catholic Principal Robert Childs said. “When our lives are difficult and seem unbearable we will remember her smiling face and her kind words.”
Kalkbrenner’s attributes were recalled by classmates and fellow cheerleaders.
“Her voice was always the loudest in the cheer, and I could always remember her being happy,” one student said. “I can’t believe I’ll never hear her words again, see her big bright smile or hear her heartwarming laugh.”
“Nobody could ever match her energy, especially when she was cheering,” another friend told attendees. “Sam should still be here laughing and having fun. Her life was taken entirely too soon.”
Daughter of Carl and Nenita Kalkbrenner of Dravosburg, Samantha Kalkbrenner had previously attended St. Therese of Lisieux School in Munhall and was an altar server at St. Therese Church, where family members said she was very active in the youth group.
Kalkbrenner had been a volunteer at the Appalachia Work Camp and Portals of Fear Haunted School and also attended Steel City Academy of Dance.
Rev. Adam Potter, parochial vicar at Mary, Mother of God Parish in McKeesport, and Serra’s chaplain, addressed an epistemic challenge to faith by recalling the New Testament story of Martha, Mary, Jesus and Lazarus.
As recorded in John 11, after Lazarus’ death his sisters questioned Jesus by saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Martha and Mary’s probing offers a theological model, Potter said: “In moments of great pain, sorrow and death, we too are free to ask the Lord questions, real questions that will open up our hearts to him: Where were you Lord? Lord, if you had been there — Lord, why didn't you do something? Where were you?”
Those seated on the field and nearby bleachers wept as the chaplain continued.
Jesus’ response reveals the “most important message,” Potter said to the candle-holding audience: “I am always there. I am always present.”
“Friends, we have a God who is not afraid to be present. There is no moment, no situation, no grief, no loss, no brokenness that he is not afraid to be present,” Potter said. “We too are not afraid of tragedy…In the midst of the brokenness and loss, we are not afraid to come together. We're not afraid to proclaim our faith.”
Serra’s principal ascended the podium again before closing the ceremony. It was close to 8 p.m. and the sun had set.
Childs told the hundreds of people who had gathered to see past the individual candle each attendee clutched.
Collective flames encountering a darkened sky is a stirring sight to behold, he said: “Turn around and look.”
In addition to her parents, Kalkbrenner also leaves behind two brothers, Carl and Nic Kalkbrenner; her grandmothers; aunts, an uncle and cousins; and extended family and friends.
Funeral arrangements are in care of Gilbert Funeral Home and Crematory, Inc., 1638 Lincoln Way, White Oak, where friends will be received from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Therese Church in Munhall.
A Serra spokesperson has announced that the school is making plans to provide transportation for any student who wishes to attend the funeral.
Classes, which were cancelled this week following the accident, remain suspended through Monday.
Adam Reinherz is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published September 22, 2023.