Sister Claudette LaVerdiere
“To see the interrelatedness of global issues, to recognize our own brokenness, to have the energy to break through walls of isolation in our ministries and our lives….”
These are the continuing challenges Sister Claudette LaVerdiere sees for women religious, as they embrace the 21st Century.
Maneuvering the crowded and noisy streets of Dhaka, a city of fifteen million and growing, with a steady stream of people migrating to the capital city every day, is part of the experience of Sister Claudette LaVerdiere, one of two Maryknoll Sisters serving as educators in Bangladesh.
Sister Claudette, who teaches at Holy Spirit Seminary in Dhaka, would not be anywhere else. For her, this is where God has planted her now, and she takes joy in the enthusiasm she sees in the young seminarians’ eyes as she unpacks the Scriptures for them each day. In this task, and in every work she has done in her now 60 years with Maryknoll, is that ongoing desire to make tangible, real and livable a faith that continues to inform and transform her life.
Sister Claudette came to Bangladesh just a few short years ago, when her colleague, another Maryknoll Sister, consumed with her responsibilities as principal and main instructor at Bangladesh Alternative Course for Human Advancement (BACHA) English Medium School, found she would need to lay down her other responsibilities as an educator at the seminary, where she had taught Scripture for more than 25 years. What began as a temporary assignment for Sister Claudette is now full-time, and she relishes the opportunity to help form young Bangladeshi men for the ministry. Sister Claudette also teaches at BACHA, begun by the Maryknoll Sisters in 2000.
Born in Waterville, ME, Sister Claudette first learned of Maryknoll when she saw a picture of a Maryknoll priest in her geography book when she was just 13 years old. Shortly thereafter, she met that same priest, who got her a subscription to Maryknoll Magazine. The rest, as they say, was history.
Beginning as a secondary school teacher in Mwanza, Tanzania, Sister Claudette’s grasp of spiritual matters, natural ability for building rapport with people different than herself, and strength in organizing programs led her to be among those of various Christian religions who, together, fashioned “The Joint Syllabus,” a way of teaching Christian values in Kenyan public schools at the dawn of the nation’s existence. The Kenyan government felt teaching its people a morality that would inform their decisions and enable them to build a lasting, strong society was critical. They had seen other countries formed without it, and did not like what they saw.
Their decision paved the way for Sister Claudette to be among those shaping the destiny of a nation that few people ever have opportunity to explore. It transformed her life in a way that still impacts everything she does as a Maryknoll Sister.
Sister Claudette then went to Mombasa on the Kenya coast, where she worked on a team with Kenyans to raise people’s awareness on the implications of the Gospel in daily life. “Under the leadership of a Kenyan, we, expatriates and Kenyans, laity and religious, men and women, worked together on a collegial experience for what became a life-changing experience for me.”
In Nairobi, Kenya, 1987, she taught New Testament at Tangaza, a major seminary, preparing candidates of religious communities, for priesthood and for missionary work in all parts of Africa.
For six years (1991 – 1997), Sister Claudette was President of the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation, visiting and encouraging Sisters in their ministries around the world. She wrote the “Afterward” of Penny Lernoux’s book, Hearts on Fire, The Story of the Maryknoll Sisters. Sister Claudette’s newest book is On the Threshold of the Future, is available through Orbis Books.
Sister Claudette earned a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) with a concentration in New Testament from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, IL in 1986, and in 2000, a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) from Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, MA.
In 2000, she returned to Nairobi, teaching seminarians. She was also able to give more time to Sisters and novices, who came from various countries to study in Nairobi; and to do some editing for the Daughters of St. Paul.
Returning to the States in 2003, Sister Claudette continued to share her gifts, giving retreats, teaching, and writing On the Threshold of the Future, a book about the spirituality of Maryknoll Sisters founder, Mother Mary Joseph Rogers. The book received second prize for Biographies at the 2012 Catholic Media Conference.