50 Years: Marie-Claire Soucy, SP
(born Florence Pauline Soucy)
Sister Marie-Claire Soucy certainly fits the definition of a citizen of the world. Born in Lowell, Mass., on December 21, 1938, in her 50 years as a Sister of Providence she has lived in Yakima, Spokane and Seattle, Wash.; in Montreal, Quebec; in Comodoro Rivadavia, Còrdoba and Buenos Aires, Argentina; in Orlandia, Brazil; in Etam Kuma and Koudandeng, Cameroon; and in Rendel, Les Cayes, Sucrerie Henry, and her current residence of Limonade, Cap Haitien in Haiti.
Sister Marie-Claire has said she belongs to two provinces, Mother Joseph Province as well as Montreal-based Emilie Gamelin Province, which sponsors the Sisters of Providence ministry in Haiti. She feels she was born to be a missionary in a foreign country, serving others while learning to adapt to their cultures and languages. “It is a call you either have or you do not,” she has said.
“The Sisters of Providence should go to places where nobody wants to go.”
Haiti, where she has been for the bulk of her years in ministry, is one of those places. It has intense poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, malnourishment and disease. But she loves her ministry there, and especially the people, “who lack in material goods, but are rich in spiritual things.” They are of Amerindian, Spanish, African, French and Ango-Saxon influences. Creole and French are the official languages, but English and Spanish also are spoken by Haitians.
Life in Haiti is not for everyone. Only a few of the courageous women and men missionaries there in 500 years have chosen to embrace fully the lifestyle of those they came to serve. Sister Marie-Claire was one of those few, choosing to live in a very simple concrete block dwelling among the most destitute in Les Cayes. She got her water from the same sources as they did, shopped in the same markets, cooked in the common kitchen and exposed herself to the same diseases and dangers as they did.
A white-knuckle departure
Memories of time spent with her there are distinctive. Consider a drive with her in an open air military-style Jeep, without a roll bar, as the vehicle bounced along rutted roads. Sister Marie-Claire dodged flaming tires set out on the road during an attempted coup d’etat, determined to get her white-knuckled passenger onto the last plane at the Port-au-Prince airport before the rebels closed the airport down. The plane was missed, but the passenger was just grateful to arrive there alive.
How did the daughter of Leona Bradford and Leo Soucy find her way from Lowell, Mass., to Haiti? She attended St. Joseph grammar school and St. Joseph High School, where she was taught by the Grey Nuns of the Cross. She entered that religious community but left at the end of the novitiate, and then later met the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a lay institute in her native parish of St. John the Baptist. She entered the institute and was sent on her first missionary trip to Hamilton, Texas, along with three other oblates.
"At the time, I had no nursing preparation," she recalled. "I worked in a small hospital going through different sections: lab, x-ray, operating room, etcetera. One of the oblates with whom I lived was a nurse and also the founder of the institute with Father Louis Parent, OMI. She noticed that I had aptitudes to be a nurse.”
Transferred to the Sisters of Providence in 1961
After a year in Hamilton, Texas, Sister Marie-Claire was sent to Montreal to take nursing courses with the Sisters of Providence at Sacred Heart Hospital. After graduation from nursing school, she received approval to transfer into the Sisters of Providence in January 1961 at the former motherhouse on Fullum Street. After the first year of novitiate, her class was transferred to the new motherhouse on Salaberry Street in August, 1962.
Sister Marie-Claire professed first vows as a Sister of Providence on July 19, 1963, and then left for Cuernavaca, Mexico, to learn Spanish with three companions. On their way to the mission in Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, they spent a few days with the Sisters of Providence in Chile. Sister Marie-Claire made perpetual vows in Canada on July 19, 1968.
In 1975 she was sent to Cameroon, Africa, where she served as a nurse director in a clinic in the bush, where there was no physician. She also served as a mid-wife, delivering more than 1,000 babies. She remained there for three years and then departed in 1978 for Haiti, where she served first in pastoral care and then as a nurse in a rural clinic.
“My favorite and most memorable ministry has been nursing, because I consider this as a blessing, to be in contact with the people, young and old, who are sick and need others to take care of them. The blessed Mother Gamelin had a great compassion for the sick and needy, and so did Mother Joseph and Mother Bernarda.
"I remember saying to a sister in Chile: ' Soy la hija privilegiada del Señor.’ (‘I'm the privileged daughter of the Lord’),'"she continued. "In spite of the joys and sorrows of life for all human beings, Providence is present in all our endeavours. In the words of Pope John Paul II: ‘Grace, in cooperation with human freedom, constitutes that mysterious presence of God in history which is Providence.'"
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