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Pioneering Black nun, educator Sr Clare of Assisi, SSF to be laid to rest tomorrow morning

A pioneer of desegregation in Catholic higher education has died, leaving a legacy of faith, holiness, and sound administration.

(Loyola New Orleans Magazine)

Sr Clare of Assisi, SSF, a renowned international educator and pioneer of desegregation, will be laid to rest tomorrow in New Orleans at the motherhouse of her religious order, the Sisters of the Holy Family.

She passed away last week on August 11th, the feast day of her namesake and patron saint.

Tributes have poured in from around the internet—and nation—since her death, including from her native Louisiana and also Los Angeles, where she taught at her order’s former high school for 10 years.

She was also principal at an elementary school in Texas, and as a teacher at Ecumenical High School in Belize.

Born Joanne T. Pierre to the late Percy and Rosa Villavaso Pierre, Sr Clare was a member of New Orleans’ St Joan of Arc Catholic Church and entered the convent in 1956, making final vows in 1964.

She was recently featured in the cover story for the magazine of Loyola University New Orleans, the Jesuit university where she and Sr Agnes Marie Sample, SSF were sent for studies in 1959.

The story, entitled “A Test of Faith”, details that they were some of the first Black undergraduates in the school’s history, as administrators did not begin admitting African Americans en masse until 1962. During the interview, the sisters revealed that another member of their congregation—the late Letitia Senegal, SSF—preceded them, enrolling in 1957.

(Prior to contact with Pierre’s family in 2019, the school believed that its first Black undergraduates were four Black male students who graduated in 1966.)

Sr Clare graduated alongside Sr Agnes in 1963 with a degree in mathematics, and would return to the school over 30 years later for a Masters in Religious Education, graduating in 1998.

She would later go on to direct the Associates of the Sisters of the Holy Family, the organization that originally helped Venerable Henriette DeLille battle opposition to the sisters’ founding as a Black religious order in the early 1800s.

Sr Clare became vicar general for the sisters following Hurricane Katrina, assisting in the rebuilding plan for their flagship high school, St. Mary’s Academy in New Orleans East. She served there as president from 2011 until 2019.

She was also a member in good standing with the Knights of Peter Claver’s Ladies Auxiliary, representatives from which will be present at her funeral proceedings (alongside knights as well).

Visitation is tomorrow from 8-10am CT, with a recitation of the Rosary at 9:15. A Mass of Christian burial will commence at 10am, and the interment will be at St. Louis Cemetery #2.

A repast will follow at the motherhouse, and masks are to be worn throughout the day’s event. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test will be required for entry.

The service will be livestreamed, and dial-in information is available on the obituary page.

Sisters of the Holy Family on Facebook
St Mary's Academy on Facebook

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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