Diocese of Lake Charles
Sister Miriam MacLean, R.S.M., Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana, was honored as the Jack V. Doland Citizen of the Year at the 30th annual Women’s Fall Conference in October at the Lake Charles Civic Center.
Each year, the Women’s Commission of Southwest Louisiana selects a recipient from a slate of candidates nominated for making a difference in the community based on their humanitarian efforts and volunteer services. The award was named in honor of the late senator for his contributions to the causes of women.
Carol Henry, chair of the 2021 fall conference, saw first-hand how much people in the community depend on Catholic Charities when she and other members of the Women’s Commission participated in a volunteer day earlier this year.
“I knew Catholic Charities was a food bank, but I was amazed at some of the other services they provide such as rental and utility assistance, medical transportation, disaster assistance, and help with funeral expenses,” said Henry. “Sister Miriam automatically came to my mind when it was time to nominate someone for the award.”
Roxie Boxie, who serves on the Women’s Commission and volunteers as a case worker at Catholic Charities, said she is impressed with how much Sister Miriam has accomplished since being named director in 2018. Under her leadership, Catholic Charities expanded its monthly food distribution to include all five civil parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, and Jeff Davis.
“Sister Miriam had the warehouse enlarged so more people could be fed each month,” Boxie said. “It was also her idea to buy ‘Big Joe,’ a 26-foot refrigerated truck used to bring food to the outlying areas.” The truck is affectionately named after St. Joseph, patron saint of the poor.
“Immediately after both hurricanes, Sister Miriam was on site at Catholic Charities,” Boxie continued. “When the pandemic hit, she did not close the doors. She knew she could not turn her back at a time when people were hurting and needed assistance.”
A native of New Hampshire and a graduate of Ave Maria University in Florida, Sister Miriam holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Michigan State University. She is a licensed social worker.
From providing a way for people to wash and dry their laundry after the storms to converting a conference room into a chapel at Catholic Charities, Boxie said Sister Miriam is full of great ideas and always thinking outside the box.
“Sister Miriam reminds me of a disciple of Jesus. Her favorite verse is Psalm 9:18: ‘God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.’ She truly lives this out through her mission at Catholic Charities,” said Boxie.
The announcement of the award is always kept a secret until the day of the conference at the luncheon. The tricky part is making sure the recipient is present to receive the award. That was made a little easier this year as Sister Miriam was on site since Catholic Charities was hosting a booth. Boxie helped coordinate getting several of the Religious Sisters of Mercy to the event.
“Sister Miriam was totally shocked. She had no idea what was happening,” said Boxie. “The Sisters were hiding behind stage and came out just as the award was being announced. It was also special to have Father Whitney Miller there as he was presenting a workshop, and he led the opening prayer.”
Sister Miriam said she is “extremely grateful” for being honored because the award represents the fact that the people of Southwest Louisiana felt supported by Christ and His Church.
“All of the Religious Sisters of Mercy and Catholic Charities worked very hard after the hurricanes because we wanted the people to know that the Lord had not abandoned them,” she said. “I feel so privileged that I was able to participate in His work.”
As the 2021 Jack V. Doland Citizen of the Year, Sister Miriam also received $1,000 to be given to the charity of her choice.