Her story begins in Ireland, where she was born and raised by a “large, devoted Catholic family.” She entered religious life as a Sister of Mercy in Belmont at age 21, and subsequently taught school and/or served as school principal in Wilmington, Asheville, Charlotte, and New Smyrna Beach, Florida. She has also served as a parish administrator and provider of pastoral care among other “callings.”
She came to Catherine’s House in 2002 at the invitation of then CEO and President, Sister Bernadette McNamara. Sister Carmelita wanted to re-engage with the local community after two years of taking care of her mother in Ireland, so she accepted the position of House Manager at Catherine’s House for one year. She said, “I didn’t have a clue as to what I was getting into, but the position grew into diverse roles over time. I really did whatever needed to be done.” After the first year, Sister Carmelita was hooked. “I loved the work. I loved the women and children, and knowing that I could be a part of giving them a second chance.”
For many of us, Sister Carmelita was the face of Catherine’s House. Today her list of contributions to Catherine’s House is quite large and still growing. She served as the House Manager, Volunteer Coordinator, and a caring mentor to over 1,200 women and children who lived at Catherine’s House. She is best known for empowering our residents with her merciful heart and honest, direct communication style. Stan Patterson, who worked closely with her for seven years as President/CEO explained, “Her directness was designed to teach, and encourage residents to be their best selves. She did not want our residents to be homeless; she always wanted them to take steps to improve their lives for themselves and their children.” Sister Carmelita tirelessly supported the residents in very practical ways such as providing transportation to medical appointments, job interviews, and housing searches, coordinating donated furniture and volunteer movers for graduates of our program, and securing donated cars for those in need of transportation.
Former residents gathered at a private reception in June to share memories of Sister Carmelita and give thanks for her impact on their lives. Mr. Patterson commented, “For many residents she represented a loving parent they never had or someone from the faith community that could see their value even when they could not. Her love for them was apparent.”
It is not surprising that her time with the residents is what she will miss most – “especially time with the children. They touch my heart and really are God’s gift to us.” Sister Carmelita enjoyed greeting the children arriving “home” from school. Each time she would hug them, ask them about their day, and tell them she loved them.
Sister’s other fond memories are with our many supporters. She explained, “Everyone is so generous to our very worthy cause, and I love sharing the story of the Sisters of Mercy and Catherine’s House.” She and her team of volunteers visit 20-30 parishes in North Carolina annually for our largest fundraiser. Under her leadership, the Car Raffle has grown each year, raising much needed funds for the program at Catherine’s House. Although she is now retired from her daily office role at Catherine’s House, she has graciously agreed to volunteer as the Car Raffle Coordinator.
Sister Carmelita continues fundraising for the ministry even in retirement because she has big dreams for the future of Catherine’s House. When asked about them, she smiled and quickly responded, “I’ve said this before – when are we getting a new house? I wish we could offer even better accommodations to more people including apartments for families.”
Catherine’s House constituents and former residents describe Sister Carmelita as unique, irreplaceable, and a gift in their lives and to Catherine’s House. Perhaps Mr. Patterson summed it up best when he said, “she can be a blur of Faith in action. All of us at Catherine’s House have been blessed in a variety of ways through Sister Carmelita’s service.”
What an enduring legacy she has left at Catherine’s House! Sister Carmelita, we are so grateful for you. Enjoy your retirement. Come back often to see us. We love you!