“I am moved by issues that affect women and children….Bioethics combines medical issues and issues pertaining to social justice and peace. It is an important subject because it teaches us to question our humanity.”
Sister Claris was born in Zimbabwe (known then as Rhodesia), the third of eleven children in a Methodist family. She was drawn to the Catholic faith when she attended Mass with a school friend, and asked her mother if she could become a Catholic. After finishing boarding school she wanted to become a Sister which her family opposed. Finally her father signed the papers and she joined the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood. Sister Claris taught school during the final years of white rule in Zimbabwe. As the liberation struggle intensified, the Precious Blood Sisters decided to send some of their members to the United States for graduate studies and professional training. In 1978 Sister Claris entered St. Joseph School of Nursing in Reading, PA. She also studied courses at Alvernia and Albright Colleges, both in Reading.
It was there that she met Sister Maura Clarke, M.M. at a seminar on global awareness. During the seminar Sister Maura offered a role playing exercise to awaken awareness of world hunger and injustice that made a lasting impression on her.
She passed her PA State Nursing Boards and returned to Zimbabwe and worked at St. Ann’s Hospital, Brunnapeg and Gweru General Hospital. Her heart was restless thinking of Sister Maura Clarke, who was murdered in El Salvador in 1980. After six months she decided to leave her community. She was anxious to work at a grassroots level and at that time they were involved largely in institutional work.
Sister Claris joined the Maryknoll Sisters in NY in 1984 and passed the NY State Nursing Board examination. She made her first commitment in Maryknoll in 1985 and chose to go to Bolivia “because as I studied the different countries, I found that Bolivia had one of the highest poverty and mortality rates in Latin America, and I would be able to use my nursing background there.”
As a Maryknoll Sister she began her mission work in a hospital and a clinic in La Paz while she learned Spanish, both the technical medical vocabulary as well as ordinary speech. She did outreach sponsored by Caritas, which provided a weekly ration of food for poor mothers, and she offered basic health care training. She spent a good deal of time in the soup kitchens in the poor barrios as a way to find out who was sick and needed care. In Cochabamba she continued health education, visiting families living on the periphery, and working in the Christian Family Movement. In 1995 she made her Final Commitment as a Maryknoll Sister in Cochabamba among her Bolivian friends and Sisters, the main celebrant being the Jesuit priest with whom she was working.
She was the administrative secretary for the Institute of Bioethics at the Catholic University of Bolivia and saw the need to integrate bioethics as an academic subject in school, “particularly in today’s world which is threatened by AIDS and poverty.” At the Institute she provided educational materials for the students at the documentation center and assisted the seminarians to study more effectively. She continued working for the defense of human life in all its aspects using opportunities to educate and raise awareness on the dignity of human life.
Returning to the U.S., she received a B.S. in Biology from Marymount/Fordham University, NY in 2005 and went to Case Western University, Cleveland, OH and received her Masters in Bioethics in 2006. She returned to Bolivia in February, 2007 to share her new learnings and make connections with social justice and peace in the field of bioethics. In 2011 Sister Claris volunteered for a month with the Medical Missionaries, a non-denominational group of health professionals, in the rural highlands of Haiti.
At present she is serving on the staff of Maryknoll’s Office for Global Concerns in New York, where she works to increase exposure at the United Naitons on issues that affect the poor.