Silvia Hirsch, a staff member with Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Camden, was traveling to her home country of Argentina over Thanksgiving last year to offer support to her brother, Pablo, who is battling cancer and preparing for a bone marrow transplant. As was Silvia’s way, she decided to sacrifice time with her own family — three children and three grandchildren here in the United States — so that she could be at her brother’s side while he faced a crucial time in fighting his debilitating disease.
However, upon arriving in Argentina, Silvia suffered a severe ischemic stroke. After many days of gradual progress in the intensive care unit of an Argentinean hospital, Silvia suffered additional complications associated with the stroke and passed away on Dec. 6, 2016.
A senior case manager with the Welfare to Work program for four years, Silvia helped hundreds of Catholic Charities clients find employment to get their lives back on track and attain self-sufficiency.
No matter who encountered Silvia — client or colleague — they encountered her caring and good nature.
Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities, explained, “We all have had experiences of Silvia’s kindness and positive spirit. I certainly did. Silvia lived Francis of Assisi’s opening plea to the Lord, ‘Make me an instrument of your peace,’” he said.
Terry Suarez, a close friend and colleague of Silvia and a stroke survivor herself, recalled, “No matter how her day was going, she always took the time to stop by my desk and asked if I wanted a cup of tea or needed anything. When I returned back to work after my stroke, she was like my mother hen, always watching out for me, even though I was much older than her.”
Another staff person at Catholic Charities described her first encounter with Sylvia. “It was my very first day on the job. I was so nervous that I had not slept at all the night before. I didn’t know any of the other Catholic Charities staff yet. As I busied myself trying to settle into my work space a little before noon, Silvia walked up to my desk and, with a warm and welcoming smile, asked, ‘Would you eat lunch with me?’ She’ll never know how much that simple invitation meant to this new and somewhat apprehensive staff person.”
Silvia’s Catholic faith was very important to her. Writing for the Catholic Star Herald in 2015, Silvia described her God-centered focus as a way of life, “For me, making a commitment to attending Mass with my family every Sunday is the most important way of keeping God at the center of our lives. At church, by listening to the homily and the stories from the Bible, the example and teachings of Jesus are reinforced every week. Through Jesus we learn how to forgive over and over; to be there for one another without expecting anything in return; to be strong, understanding, patient and generous.”
The Hirsch family, though devastated by their loss, believe that Silvia’s death was not in vain.
While Silvia was in the hospital, her brother seemed to gain a renewed strength and has since made significant strides toward battling his cancer.
“They believe that it was Silvia’s presence that gave him his renewed strength and desire to live,” said a family friend. “Her children also believe that even though they were not able to be by their mother’s side during her final days, they feel she was exactly where she was meant to be — with her own mother and siblings at the place of her birth, her beloved Argentina, upon her death. They all share in this positive outlook despite the fact that they were not able to be with their mom during her last days on earth and were not even able to attend her funeral except through Skype,” she explained.
She continued, “Silvia was truly a living saint who has touched so many lives by her kindness and her love. And while she will not be able to watch her grandchildren grow up or be with her children to celebrate their upcoming weddings and milestones, she will forever be a guardian angel watching over them all.”
Silvia Hirsch died as she had lived — on a mission to help others. Her legacy lives on not just with her personal family, but also with us, her Catholic Charities family. We will miss her dearly.