Accompanying a church “doing what Jesus wants it to do”
“If there is one thing I’m passionate about,” Sister Mary Clare Fichtner says, “it’s seeing that the Church of Jesus Christ does what Jesus Christ wants it to do.”
There is a pause before she continues. “But, alone, I am not all that sure that I know what that is. A community has to decide what Jesus calls us to, not just me.”
While her title is pastoral associate of Sacred Heart Parish in Columbia, Mo., Sister Clare, a Dominican Sister of Springfield, Ill., prefers to think of herself as a “resource person” for a half-dozen programs running in the parish.
She explains how one-to-one tutoring for English language learners has blossomed into a program for budding entrepreneurs, several Spanish conversation study groups, and a Burundian liturgical dance class. Each of these parish activities helps to bridge the color divide in the parish by bringing white parishioners into meaningful relationships with people of color. That’s another passion for Sister Clare, who has a master’s in Black Catholic Studies from Xavier University, New Orleans, and has dedicated more than a decade of her life to her own congregation’s efforts to dismantle racism.
“There are people in the parish who want to lead,” she says. “I have had to learn how to let them do it the way they want to do things. It’s working!” she exclaims.
After sixty years of religious profession, the Detroit native has a lot of experience, wisdom, and resources, to share. She gets no argument from the pastor, Father Francis Doyle, who is decades younger than she. The moment he is introduced to a guest he quickly shows his appreciation—and sense of humor. “Do you know what Sister Clare is good at?” he queries. “She is an expert in reality therapy!”
Sister Clare, it seems, has a knack for recognizing ways for people to work themselves out of whatever dilemma they find themselves in, even if that happens to be the pastor.
Later that evening Father Doyle interrupts an evening Spanish conversation class to check in with his associate. Sister Clare has had a phone call from a parishioner’s son who says his father is near death. She tells the pastor, who promises to visit the man right away. “It would mean a lot to me and I know it will mean a lot to the sons and to Tom,” she says. “He is not dying well,” she explains. “He needs you.” Her brimming eyes betray the depth of her commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ.
During National Catholic Sisters Week we celebrate our Sister, Clare, for her humble, generous work in the service of the Church.