A Passing ThoughtLaurence Tiblis
A Passing Thought
Her calling to be a Daughter of Charity wasn’t a priority at first. But for Sr. Clarisse Correia, DC, it was just a matter of time before she felt the need to be part of something bigger, more universal.
While in high school, Sr. Clarisse Correia, DC, had only a “passing thought” about entering religious life. She wrote letters of inquiry to two religious orders for women, and only one order wrote back: The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. “When I received the Daughters’ [of Charity] letter in reply, I just put it aside. I didn’t think much about it because entering religious life just wasn’t my priority at that time,” recalls Sr. Correia. “Yet, the Daughters kept writing me and writing me. Still, I put it aside.”
In the early 1960s, and Sr. Correia decided to forgo religious life and enrolled in St. Luke’s School of Nursing in New Bedford, Massachusetts, her hometown. During her clinical rotations in nursing school, she became reacquainted with the Daughters, those same women “who kept writing me letters.” She graduated nursing school as a Registered Nurse in 1963, and joined the Daughters in 1965. “I wanted to be part of something bigger, something universal,”
About her decision to commit herself to religious life, Sr. Correia says. “To live in a community and to serve those in need was, and remains, appealing.”
Today, The Miraculous Medal Shrine is the beneficiary of Sr. Correia’s decision to join the Daughters. Being a member of the Vincentian family, she was asked by Shrine Director Fr. Michael J. Carroll, CM, to join the Shrine team in late-2019 to create a Philadelphia chapter of the Ladies of Charity.
The Ladies of Charity is a worldwide lay apostolate of women that was founded by St. Vincent de Paul in 1617 in eastern France. Their mission is to serve Christ in the poor, and, as the Ladies’ national website states, “…respond with compassion to every human misery.”
In fact, the Ladies of Charity was the first organization founded by St. Vincent, before both the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) and the Daughters of Charity. With the leadership of both St. Vincent and St. Louise de Marillac, what started more than 400 years ago in the French countryside spread throughout the world and still thrives today.
To live in community and to serve those in need was, and remains, appealing.
The “association,” or chapter, that Sr. Correia is forming in the Philadelphia region will be its own nonprofit group, while being recognized as a member of the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America, a national organization that strengthens the bonds between local associations. The Philadelphia Ladies will work in many of the same ministries that the Ladies work in other communities across the nations. The Ladies embrace their motto, “To serve rather than be served,” and thus they are wherever there is a need: working in soup kitchens, visiting women in prison, creating job training programs for adult women, or advocating for legislation that assists the marginalized.
To accomplish her mission at the Shrine, Sr. Correia has moved in with four other Daughters of Charity in what was once the rectory of now-closed Immaculate Conception Church in the Germantown section of Philadelphia—a city that she has never lived in during her many years of service with the Daughters.
I wanted to be part of something bigger, something universal.
However, Sr. Correia is no stranger to new ministries in new locales.
Beginning her career as a nurse and while earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree, she steadily assumed greater leadership roles in health care, soon earning a six-year stint as President and CEO of St. John of God Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. From there, she transitioned to higher education, becoming President of Labouré College, a nursing and healthcare college operated by the Daughters, in Milton, Massachusetts. During her ten years of leadership, Labouré College saw an almost 200 percent increase in graduates, many who were older men and women who wanted to become nurses.
Leaving Labouré College in 1998, Sr. Correia served as a board chair of a health system and coordinator of a Daughters’ community campus, among other positions. She came to the Shrine after six years as Administrator of Villa St. Michael, a Daughters’ retirement community in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Even after fifty-five years as a Daughter (she jokes, “…you can guess my age from my time as a Daughter, but please don’t!”), Sr. Correia has no plans to slow down. “I loved my years of service, and I continue to love them.”
Speaking on her new mission to form a Ladies of Charity chapter in the Philadelphia region, she looks to St. Vincent de Paul, saying: “St. Vincent knew that vowed religious men and women could not serve the poor alone. He knew that more was needed, and that there was a desire in the laity to answer the needs of the poor. The Ladies of Charity was his first answer.”
For those Ladies of Charity who will serve in the Philadelphia area, Sr. Correia’s seasoned leadership may just be the answer.