Marie Louise Kirkland, 99, a nun at Georgetown Visitation Convent whose skill at predicting the outcome of football games made her a national celebrity at the age of 89, died at the convent July 10 after a stroke.
For much of her life, Sister Marie Louise led a quiet existence at Georgetown Visitation, praying at regular intervals during the day, putting on plays at the convent school and helping out with the needs of boarding students. Throughout it all, however, she maintained a passionate interest in sports of all kinds.
The spotlight turned on her after WUSA-TV sportscaster Glenn Brenner asked her to be one of his weekly celebrity prognosticators on Channel 9 during the pro football season.
When Sister Marie Louise beat almost all competitors -- including newscasters Dan Rather, Maureen Bunyan and Connie Chung; boxer Sugar Ray Leonard; actors William Shatner and Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens); members of the Temptations; and football stars Sonny Jurgensen and Mark Rypien -- People magazine and other publications came courting.
It helped that the mother superior of Georgetown Visitation, Mother Mary de Sales, happened to be a rabid football fan herself and loved staying up late with her to watch the matches.
"Some of our sisters don't understand the game at all," the mother superior said in an interview with The Washington Post 10 years ago. "They're wonderful people, but they'll say something like, `Is it a home run?' It drives us craaaazy."
She said of her religious order: "We're contemplatives. But the idea is, how can we pray properly for the world if we don't know something of what's going on in the world?"
Sister Marie Louise was a Washington native who played basketball while attending high school in Montgomery County. She later studied at Immaculata College and was a courthouse clerk in Rockville until she was in her thirties.
"When I came to the convent, I was scared I wouldn't be able to love sports anymore," she told Washington Post writer Paul Hendrickson in 1989.
"I didn't truly think I was meant to stay, but I did. People in my family said, `Are you kidding? You'll never last in there.' I went in January 5th of '35, and I'm still here."
Brenner, who died of a brain tumor in 1992, was an old parochial-school boy from Philadelphia. He found out about Sister Marie Louise, later dubbed "the Wizard of 35th Street" because of the Visitation location, from an alumna. When Brenner called the nun, she said, "Well, it's true, I do tend to follow the game." But she said that as a cloistered nun, she couldn't go to the broadcast studio.
And so Brenner went to her.
Mother Mary de Sales recalled that when she told Sister Marie Louise that she didn't think they could get into game forecasting, all the other nuns urged her to allow it.
Brenner was "so sweet and charming," Sister Marie Louise told Hendrickson. "He said, `How 'bout the Saints, Sister?' I said, `Oh, I don't bother with the Saints. They always let you down.' He said, `Okay, how 'bout the Cardinals?' I said, 'Oh, I don't know any Cardinals.' It sort of went like that."
She always refused to predict the point spread. That would have been oddsmaking, she said, and it would have been wrong. The $1,000 she won by predicting the most wins was donated to a scholarship at the school.
She leaves no immediate survivors.
CAPTION: Sister Marie Louise Kirkland reads sports news in a parlor at Georgetown Visitation Convent in November 1989, when her forecasting abilities won attention.