Sister Claire Foley SNDdeN
August 14, 1938 – February 3, 2019
“I pray with all my heart for my dear family in God. Come, my dear daughters, we must have courage in the century we live in. Great souls are needed, souls having the interests of the greater glory of God at heart.” (Letter 35, Saint Julie Billiart, Foundress, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur)
August 14, 1938 was a day of surprise, joy and sadness for Harold and Caroline Foley as they welcomed not one but two premature children into the world. The babies were immediately baptized Merle and Claire. Merle lived a short six hours. Claire needed time at the hospital before she could go home. Even then she was so tiny her father carried her on a pillow. Claire never forgot her twin, and years later reflected that the loss of Merle may have been the seed of her openness to a call to community. Perhaps it was also the seed of Claire’s ability to connect so deeply with so many people.
Claire grew up in a close and loving extended family. She was educated for 12 years by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) in Hamilton, first at Saint Veronica Parish School and then at Notre Dame High School. It was through the Sisters that Claire came to know and feel a kinship with Julie Billiart, especially Julie’s love of the poor and commitment to education. Claire was deeply touched by the warmth, support and individual interest of the Sisters who were her teachers. What she appreciated most was their commitment to the calling forth of gifts in their students. The Sisters also helped nourish Claire’s growing relationship with God. Liturgy was important to her from childhood, especially the sense of communion with God. She felt the moments after receiving Communion were a particularly sacred time when she could really talk to Jesus, and that is a gift that stayed with her throughout her life. In those conversations, God’s call became real to Claire. Listening deeply for that call, and responding freely and lovingly to it, became her life’s journey.
By spring of her senior year, Claire had chosen to respond to the call to religious life. She entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur the following September 8th. Claire’s years in formation called her to deepen her spirituality and grow in her understanding of her faith and of her God. Those years were also the beginning of wonderful friendships with her Sisters. Claire later said, “Those were learning about, living into religious life days as well as hitting the school books and getting the background and the training to become teachers.” She received the name Sister Mary Harold as a novice, and was known by that name until 1969. After her vows in March of 1959, Claire was immediately assigned to coursework to prepare her to commence 27 years of service in formal education.
One of Julie Billiart’s quotes about simplicity provides an image for Claire’s life in ministry: “The simple soul is a very pure crystal which the rays of the Sun of Justice penetrate, enlighten and warm.” As the crystal refracts light into so many colors, Claire made known God’s goodness in myriad ways as educator, administrator, and servant-leader. She loved teaching and was good at it, showing the same interest, warmth and support to her students that she had experienced. In addition to the role of teacher, Claire served as principal in both urban and rural schools, and as Assistant Super-intendent of Schools for the Northern part of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. In both of those roles, she helped teachers become better teachers and worked to improve ways curriculum met the needs of students. Over the years she served the boards of various schools including Mount Notre Dame, Chaminade Julienne, and the Summit Country Day School, and she served on the Catholic Inner-City Schools Educational Fund (CISE) Advisory Board. As an administrator and board member, Claire was known for her patience, ability to meet challenges with confidence and competence, contagious energy, empowerment of others to use their gifts, reflectiveness and commitment to mission.
In 1988 Claire responded to the call of God and the community to internal ministry for the Ohio Unit. She served as Director of Ministry: walking with individual Sisters as she helped them deepen their understanding of their contribution to the mission of Notre Dame and especially the Gospel call to serve the materially poor. Claire helped Sisters discern the call to new ministries and helped them transition from one ministry to another. She also pointed Sisters towards opportunities to renew their energy to continue the mission. Claire served as Director of Associates and helped with the SNDdeN formation programs locally and nationally. In both of those roles, she helped deepen the formative programs. After “retiring” in 2014, Claire was asked if she’d like to volunteer with the Clean Water Program sponsored by the Ohio Unit Development Office. She enthusiastically accepted the invitation and helped reach out to numerous schools and parishes where the SNDdeN had served. Through her visits Claire demonstrated what the program was doing and encouraged participation of school and parish communities in raising money to help provide clean water and energy at sites in Africa and Latin America where the SNDdeN serve today.
Many times Claire responded to the call to serve in leadership for her community. The first time was in 1988 when she was called to serve on the Ohio Unit Leadership Team. That term corresponded with her service as Director of Ministry. The second time was the call to serve as Provincial of the Ohio Unit from 1994-2000. Claire and her team revitalized community life and, when the opportunity presented itself, rallied the Ohio Sisters to make the decision to take the risk of committing to build a new Health Center at Mount Notre Dame. She and her team led the planning and began the building process while taking steps to insure that the funds would be raised to pay for the project. The third time was in 2007. The Ohio Unit was grieving the death of their provincial and discerning who to ask to join the Leadership Team. Claire, herself grieving the loss of her dear friend, responded to the call. With the other Team members, she helped keep the affairs of the Ohio Unit on an even keel while moving us forward at the same time. An even keel was needed as the Church continued to be rocked by scandal, the process of the Apostolic Visitation was started, and the Ohio and Maryland Units prepared for the Maryland Sisters to join Ohio. Besides the issues to be dealt with, there were the relationships that needed tending and collaborations to be established. Claire walked with individual Sisters, this time helping them listen for God’s call in the areas of community, spirituality and ministry. She faithfully served on United States Leadership, contributing to growing collaboration between the SNDdeN in the United States and attended regional and national meetings of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Claire formally and informally served as mentor to many women who were new to leadership both within and outside of the SNDdeN. She served as liaison to various Ohio Unit committees and boards, served as delegate to two general chapters and participated in the Encuentro mid-chapter meeting. In 2011, a few months after completing her last term on the Leadership Team, Claire again responded to her Sisters’ call. This time it was to serve as Pastoral Moderator at Villa Julie. There she added new communication channels and more ways for Sisters to be involved in the affairs of community life. Claire also visited Sisters in nursing homes in the Baltimore area and accompanied Sisters in discerning life transitions. When she “retired” in 2014, the Villa Julie community expressed their gratitude for her loving, welcoming presence by gifting her with a quilt imprinted with a photo of them. Claire treasured that quilt and opportunities for later visits to Villa Julie.
Claire’s “retirement” was filled with activities. From 2015 until her death she was regularly called upon to help with the orientation of new Ohio Unit employees. In addition, Claire helped co-ordinate medical driving for the Health Center, recruited Sisters to “buddy” with Sisters from Cuvilly for community celebrations, helped with the Hamilton Alumnae, and continued to respond to the call to serve on various committees. She served as wisdom figure, mentor and advisor for Sisters and staff. Always Claire’s focus was responding to God’s call to further the mission.
Throughout her life Claire attended to her own deepening and growth. She made good use of workshops and opportunities for study. She was grateful for having the experience of participating in the year-long ARC Program in Rome, for sabbaticals and for pilgrimage opportunities to the Holy Land and Notre Dame Heritage sites. A woman who was deeply reflective, she looked forward to her annual retreat, participated in spiritual direction and was well-read in professional topics and spirituality. Claire offered this reflection on her life in 2016: “When I entered religious life, our days were about learning. Now they are about understanding, and that brings a deep peace for me. My relationship with this God who has companioned me through this journey has deepened. I am grateful.”
In community, Claire was described as “easy to live with.” She loved opportunities to spend time with her Sisters. It didn’t matter if it was a picnic supper on a hot evening, a good card game, a birthday celebration, watching a good movie together, or simply sharing a good laugh – Claire enjoyed having fun and helping others to have fun. She enjoyed travel, especially with friends. Claire had wonderful memories of pilgrimages and her Golden Jubilee trip to Alaska. She was loving, generous, courageous, thoughtful, compassionate and sensitive to others. Claire was an excellent listener, appreciated the giftedness of her Sisters, and was a good friend to many. The combination of her analytical thinking, clear articulation, deep integrity and warm and loving heart made her an invaluable presence at community meetings locally, nationally and internationally. She could summarize complicated discussions, drill to the heart of the matter, explain it in a way that could be heard and illumine paths forward.
Claire loved her family deeply. She was grateful to be geographically close to her family most of her religious life. After the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council, Claire was grateful for opportunities to spend time with family. She carried her family’s cares, concerns, joys and sorrows to prayer, often asking her Sisters to join her in praying for special intentions for family members. The only thing that might have improved Claire’s last day in this life was the chance to spend time with her family – and perhaps a chance to say good-bye.
She spent the morning of February 2nd joyously celebrating the 215th anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur with her Sisters and Associates. Claire had a celebratory meal with her community in the evening and then enjoyed a good card game. By the next morning, Claire had once again heard and answered the call of her good God. In response to this call, she had passed from this life into resurrected life where she was welcomed by her loving God and reunited with Merle, her parents and so many Sisters and friends who responded to that call before her. As Claire’s family, friends, co-workers and Sisters mourn our loss, the words Claire shared in 2014 with a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer are a call to each of us. She said, “Life is a series of sorrows and loss and celebrations. We will see resurrection every day if we have eyes to see. Easter has become a very living thing for me.” As we gather to celebrate Claire’s life that was such a gift of God’s goodness to so many, we ask Claire to pray for us that we may have eyes to see and hearts to believe as she did. We thank God for Claire and, trusting in God’s goodness and love for each of us, we echo the words Claire sang at the closing of the February 2nd liturgy:
Come serve our God with gladness, rejoicing in the call to follow where Julie has walked, her journey of the cross. The God who calls now leads us forth to pathways yet unknown; we go with hope, God’s promise clear: “With you, I will be.”
Born August 14, 1938 in Hamilton, Ohio
Parents: Harold J. Foley (born in Cincinnati, Ohio) and Caroline Mergy (born in Cincinnati, Ohio)
Siblings: Lawrence (Larry) Foley, Merle Foley (her twin who died 6 hours after birth), Vivian Foley Copas, Francis (Frank) Foley,
Baptism on September 25, 1938 registered at St. Veronica Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Confirmed on November 29, 1950 at St. Veronica Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Entered September 8, 1956 at Mt. Notre Dame
First Profession: March 12, 1959
Final Profession: August 13, 1964
Notre Dame High School, Hamilton, Ohio, 1956
Bachelor of Science in Education from Our Lady of Cincinnati College, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1967
Master of Education/Administration from Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1986
1959-1960 Mt. Notre Dame Academy, Reading, Ohio
1960-1964 St. Susanna Parish School, Mason, Ohio
1964-1967 St. Agnes Parish School, Dayton, Ohio
1967-1974 Holy Family Parish School, Dayton, Ohio
1974-1975 Participant, ARC Program, Rome, Italy
1975-1978 St. Susanna Parish School, Mason, Ohio
1978-1984 Corryville Catholic School, Cincinnati, Ohio
1984-1985 Student, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio
1985-1988 Assistant Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Dayton School Office, Dayton, Ohio
1988-1994 Ohio Unit Leadership Team, Director of Office of Ministry, Provincial Offices, Mt. Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
1994-2000 Provincial, Ohio Unit Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Provincial Offices, Mt. Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
2000-2001 Sabbatical, St. Stephen Priory, Dover, Massachusetts
2001-2007 Director of Associates, Ohio Unit Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Provincial Offices, Mt. Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio (also part-time Director of Formation)
2007-2010 Leadership Team Member, Ohio Unit Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Provincial Offices, Mt. Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
2011-2014 Pastoral Moderator, Villa Julie, Stevenson, Maryland
2014-2019 Ohio Province Development Office Clean Water Program Volunteer & Community Service, Mt. Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
Died: February 3, 2019 at Mt. Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
February 5, 2019