Sister Catherine Erisman was born in Framingham, MA. She graduated from Greenfield High School and received her R.N. from Boston Children’s Hospital. She worked there as staff nurse supervisor. After receiving her B.S. in Nursing from Catholic University, Washington D.C., Sister Catherine entered the Maryknoll Sisters in 1954.
Assigned to Tanzania in 1957, Sister Catherine taught in Morogoro, Mwanza, and Bukoba, where she was headmistress. These were the three schools administered by the Maryknoll Sisters. Sister Catherine then taught in Moshi where she was one of the first Maryknoll Sisters to work in a government secondary school. In 1975, Sister Catherine was one of the pioneers of an experimental secondary school in Nangwa Village, Babati, started at the request of President Nyerere, to give skills to local girls enabling them to help their villages.
In 1980, Sister Katie returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center, N.Y. to work in the Center Health Unit and then as the Congregational Health Director.
Returning to Africa in 1985, Sister Katie lived and worked with “famine refugees” in the Sudan under a six month contract with the Save the Children Fund, USA. They were Eritrean refugee children.
At the request of the Maryknoll Sisters in Africa, Sister Katie spent a year looking into the refugee situation, needs, and possibilities for work, visiting Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Somalia. Sister Katie learned a great deal about Africa’s refugees and the many problems which they face. Sister Katie’s first response was to go to Somalia with a team of Maryknoll Sisters, being of service as a nurse to these uprooted and homeless people.
Later, Sister Katie worked in the AIDS outreach program in the Diocese of Mwanza, Tanzania. On January 12, 1994, Sister Katie was honored by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in recognition of her 40th anniversary as a Maryknoll Sister, and her commitment to the poor of East Africa and people with AIDS.
From the 1995 Rwandan genocide to 2002, Sister Katie worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), becoming Country Director for JRS in Tanzania in 1997, working with refugees from Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire. Her work included frequent visits to the camps and attending meetings of other JRS workers in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Sister Katie’s most memorable visit was an in-service training seminar in Rwanda where each day held lasting images and memories. The horror of the genocide was evident everywhere.
After her JRS service, Sister Katie spent a year with an AIDS outreach project in the diocese of Mwanza as well as working in the Bugando Catholic hospital.
In 2003, Sister Katie returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center to serve as one of the coordinators of the Rogers Community for three years. Today, she remains an active volunteer.