Daughter of Charity dies at 83

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 3, 2010

NATCHEZ — The surviving siblings of Sister Clare Elizabeth Hogan say her death marks the loss of the most compassionate person they’ve ever known.

Sister Clare, who opened and directed Catholic Charities in Natchez, died Saturday at age 83 in Mobile, Ala., where she most recently served as a counselor at 2-B Choices for Women of Catholic Social Services.

Funeral services are today at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Mobile. Burial will be Thursday at Natchez City Cemetery.

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Sister Clare was the fifth of 10 children born to Benjamin Ambrose Hogan and Mary Tonguis Hogan in New Orleans. She was a gifted athlete, and always the first to be chosen for neighborhood football and baseball matches, older brother Ralph Hogan remembers.

“We kind of called her a tomboy, and we didn’t mean it as a derogatory term,” Hogan said. “She was just a girl that was good at boys’ sports.”

Sister Clare attended St. Francis of Assissi School and St. Stephens High School, led by the Daughters of Charity. At just 16 years old, she joined the Daughters of Charity in 1943, a decision that at first puzzled her youngest sibling Marjorie Hogan Freeman, then 8 years old.

“She was a very, very gentle and kind person — a quiet sister as opposed to the rest of the family,” Freeman said.

“She was different from the rest of the family, and now I know why — she was answering God’s prayer to become a nun.”

Hogan recalls poking fun at the Daughters of Charity’s traditional habit, but Sister Clare quickly and thoughtfully put an end to her brother’s teasing.

“Their hairpiece had big wings on them, and what I said wasn’t taken well by Sister Clare at all,” Hogan said.

“She answered me in voice a little louder than normal, in a pitch a little higher, and said, ‘Look past the habit and look at the person. You will see someone who is really thoughtful and helpful.’”

After graduating from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., Sister Clare worked as a social worker in San Gabriel, Calif., Covington, Ky., and Jackson and Evansville, Ind., before opening a Catholic Charities satellite office in Natchez in 1987. Within 10 years, Catholic Charities established Prevention and Awareness of Child Abuse programs; HUGS (Helping Us Grow Stronger) for teen mothers and infants; the Healthy Start program for families with at-risk infants; emergency aid counseling; a thrift shop and the Guardian Shelter for battered families.

In 1999, Sister Clare passed the leadership baton to Martha Mitternight, who remembered her mentor as warm and personable.

“It’s hard to fill her shoes, but she made (the transition) as easy for me as she possibly could have,” Mitternight said.

“She loved to parade, she loved to party and she loved being with people. When she was around there was laughter in the room.”

Sister Clare and the two remaining Daughters of Charity, Sister Mary Junkin and Sister Emmanuel Schott, bade Natchez farewell in 2003, ending an era of service for the Daughters of Charity that began here in 1847.

“Natchez is a very special community of people who are so welcoming,” Sister Clare told The Democrat in 2003. “You become a part of everything when you’re in Natchez. God has blessed me with my experience here, and I’ll always cherish it.”

Before their departure, the Sisters were named The Democrat’s Citizen of the Year, a title Sister Clare was already familiar with. She also received the honor in 1997.

Her response then was modest. “God does the work; I’ve just been an instrument.”