Obituary of Irene Elizabeth Starrs
Irene was born to Catherine and Edward Kelly on August 2nd, 1964 in the Bronx, New York. She spent her early childhood in California, Maryland, then Vienna, Virginia by 1st grade where she grew up with her five brothers. She attended James Madison High School, then went on to study Math and Religion at the College of William & Mary. Following graduation, she served as a missionary with NET Ministries from 1986-87, where she traveled the country sharing the Gospel by putting on retreats for youth. It was this experience that helped develop Irene’s love and passion for youth ministry. After her mission year, Irene went on to receive her Master’s in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she also met lifelong friends who would later introduce her to her husband, Joe. She returned to Virginia where she taught at Bishop O'Connell High School, then later worked as a Youth Minister and St. Thomas à Becket Parish.
In early 1992 Irene was invited to a brunch in DC hosted by close friends from Franciscan, where she met Joe Starrs. They began dating soon after, and were married on May 29th, 1993. They spent the first few years of married life in Centreville, where their daughters Maria, Sarah, and Bridget were born. Irene and her family moved to South Riding in October of 1999, where they spent the next twenty-two years living next door to their dear friends, the Greiners. Irene and Joe’s younger three daughters, Hannah, Abby, and Julia were born between 2000 and 2006.
Irene’s passion for education and her Catholic faith led her to embark on the adventure of homeschooling that spanned twenty-one years. Being a mom and homeschooling was one of the great joys of her life. What started as an experiment became a passion for her. She mentored many homeschool moms, not only in Northern Virginia but across the country, connected by the online homeschool world. In addition to homeschooling her daughters, Irene taught classes at Holy Trinity, Northern Virginia Homeschool Group, St. John Bosco, and tutored in Math, SAT prep, Personal Finance, Literature, Speech and Debate, and Shakespeare.
One of Irene’s other great loves, which she shared with her father, was genealogy. She would spend hours tracing her family lineage, and even connected online with distant family members in Ireland and Italy. She also loved yearly family vacations to the Outer Banks, camping trips, visiting the blue bells in the Spring, the Cheese Shop in Williamsburg, VA, her book club, Ireland, and good literature.
She was so excited to re-enter the world of youth ministry at Christ the Redeemer parish in Sterling, VA in October of 2019, and worked there until August of 2021. Despite the challenge of a global pandemic, Irene was able to build a thriving Youth Ministry program. She enjoyed taking her kids to Work Camp as well as the camaraderie and support of her fellow youth ministers and co-workers.
Summer 2021 was full of both joy and heartbreak for Irene and her family. Her second oldest daughter got married in June, and in July she became a grandmother. Within twenty-four hours of her grandson Dillon’s birth, Irene, who had never smoked, was shocked to receive a Stage IV Lung Cancer diagnosis.
Irene received wonderful care from Fairfax Inova Hospital and her oncologist Dr. Benyounes. The outlook was not promising at the time of her initial diagnosis, and it did not look like she would have much time left. She responded to chemo well, and though there were low points and health scares, the fact that she had almost a full year of being relatively healthy, all things considered, was a miracle in and of itself.
Some of the joys of that year included watching Dillon grow, enjoying lots of time with her husband and daughters, Outer Banks trips in October and August, Smoky Mountains in TN for Easter, weddings of dear family friends, countless visitors to the back porch, and welcoming her granddaughter, Adeline Irene, into the world.
Irene stopped responding to chemo in August, but was able to enter a clinical trial at the end of September. She began to decline throughout the course of the clinical trial, and by the time it was clear that the trial was not working, she was too weak to try other treatments or wait to enter another trial. She had about three weeks in hospice at home, spending quality time with loved ones. She died on November 15th after receiving last rites, surrounded by her family.
Irene joins her father, Edward Kelly, in death. She is survived by her mother Catherine Kelly, brothers Mike, Jim, Tom, Steve, and Chris, husband Joe, daughters Maria, Sarah, Bridget, Hannah, Abby, and Julia, sons-in-law Matt and Christian, and grandchildren Dillon and Adeline. She will be greatly missed by all.
In lieu of flowers, we ask that if you feel so inclined, donations be made to the Inova Schar Cancer Institute.