Obituary: Kenneth Roos / Architect dedicated to Catholic mission in Peru

Sept. 22, 1927 - Nov. 10, 2013

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On the outskirts of Chimbote, Peru, most young mothers once gave birth inside the straw-walled, dirt-floored huts in which they lived. The nuns assisting at the births had to tie their long habits around their legs to keep rats from running up their skirts. And many of the babies were born dead or dying, in part because their mothers had never received prenatal care.

Monsignor Jules Roos, the missionary priest who had to give emergency baptisms to those babies, soon set to work to prevent the same fate for other local children by building the area's first maternity hospital, Maternidad de Maria. And his brother, Kenneth Roos of Ross, not only designed the hospital and the clinic, laboratory and additional facilities that followed, but spent a lifetime raising money, shipping huge crates of medical supplies and equipment from his home, and spreading the word locally about the deep need for help in one of Peru's poorest places, said his daughter, Gretchen Roos.

After the hospital -- designed by Mr. Roos, an architect -- was built in 1966, many thousands of mothers finally had a clean place to give birth, boosting the chances for survival and a healthy life for them and their babies, she said.

"He thought it was one of the most important things he ever did -- they serve the poorest of the poor, it's terrible poverty -- and I think he saw that what he did there made a difference," said Ms. Roos of Wexford, senior counsel for PPG Industries and a board member of the Chimbote Foundation, which oversees support for the medical facilities. "When you can contribute to 90,000 babies being born safely, that's quite a legacy."

Kenneth Roos, of Ross, died Sunday of congestive heart failure. He was 86.

Mr. Roos was the son of Jules and Marie Roos of Bellevue. After graduating from North Catholic High School in 1945, he served stateside in the Army as a payroll clerk between February and December of that year.

After his discharge, Mr. Roos earned a bachelor's degree in architecture in 1952 from what is now Carnegie Mellon University, and showed a talent both as a craftsman and an artist, his daughter said. He worked for an architecture firm until 1966, then opened his own practice.

Much of his work was designing contemporary Catholic churches, including the chapel of St. Sebastian Church in Ross and St. Joseph Church in Verona, as well as renovations to many Catholic schools and convents. He also designed many commercial buildings around Pittsburgh.

An admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, he also designed the family's contemporary home in Ross, into which his wife, Lois, and five children moved in 1960.

"He designed it so the living room in particular had huge glass windows over the deck, looking out into the woods," Ms. Roos said.

Fortunately, it also had a garage big enough to accommodate the large crates of tools, supplies and medicines -- everything from generators and construction tools to lab equipment and, one time, a Toyota truck filled with donated diapers and a case of beer to improve the chances of the truck arriving at its destination -- that he amassed, she said. A shipping company that donated its services sent the crates to the hospital complex in Peru several times a year, Ms. Roos said.

Monsignor Roos, who served his parish in Chimbote for 48 years until his death in February, had a vision for the help his parishioners needed, said Patrick Joyce, director of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh's Office for Stewardship. But his brother helped make it possible to fulfill that vision.

"The church talks about a bridge of love and hope between the people of Peru and the people of the United States -- Ken Roos was a bridge builder, an extraordinary man," Mr. Joyce said.

Although Mr. Roos retired from his architecture work in his 60s, he continued his work for the Chimbote mission into his early 80s, with approximately a dozen visits to Peru and a multitude of fundraisers over the years.

Mr. Roos also is survived by his wife, Lois, and four other children, Marita of Annapolis, Md.; Jeff of Newport Beach, Calif.; Greg of Placentia, Calif.; and Ken of Ambler, Montgomery County.

Friends will be received at T.B. Devlin Funeral Home, 806 Perry Highway, Ross, from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. Mass will be celebrated on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. in St. Sebastian Church.

The family suggests donations to St. Sebastian's St. Vincent de Paul Society, 301 Siebert Road, Pittsburgh 15237; Heritage Hospice, 356 Freeport St., Suite 200, New Kensington, PA 15068; or the Chimbote Foundation, 111 Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222.


Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719.


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