By Pamela Seal
Diocese of Lake Charles
When Sister Miriam MacLean, RSM, was appointed Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana in 2018, she chose the motto, “God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.” (Psalm 9:18)
She has taken this motto to heart by raising awareness that Catholic Charities exists to serve all five parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, and Jeff Davis in the Diocese of Lake Charles.
“Our mission of being Christ’s presence in this area is something I take seriously at Catholic Charities,” said Sister Miriam, a Religious Sister of Mercy. “We want people to have hope and to know that we are a sign of Christ’s love for them.”
A recent assignment to the Motherhouse has Sister Miriam returning to Alma, Michigan, on October 1. There, she will serve as Postulant Directress for those seeking admission to the order for the Religious Sisters of Mercy.
Her last day at Catholic Charities is September 22, but she can leave knowing the seeds she has planted on fertile ground are yielding a fruitful harvest.
“I am so grateful to have been able to serve in the Diocese of Lake Charles and have learned so much about God’s goodness,” Sister Miriam remarked about her time as director these past five years.
“Working at Catholic Charities has helped me see in concrete and practical ways how God’s providence is always at work in people’s lives,” she said. “I have seen, time and time again, how God provides for the needs of His Beloved poor.”
A few of the ways Sister Miriam has seen God’s hand at work is through multiple natural disasters this area has faced in a short time.
There were back-to-back hurricanes of Laura and Delta in 2020, Winter Storm Uri in 2021, followed by major flooding later that same year. Most recently, Sister has been a guiding force in assisting those affected by wildfires in Beauregard and Vernon parishes.
Through every disaster, she forges ahead with grace, calmness, and the direction necessary to help those in need.
Bishop Glen John Provost is responsible for inviting the Religious Sisters of Mercy to serve in the Diocese of Lake Charles. He announced their arrival in September 2013, giving initial credit to Sister Mary Vianney Walsh, RSM, who paved the way at Catholic Charities.
“When I first invited the Sisters of Mercy of Alma to our Diocese, Sister Miriam and Sister Mary Vianney, whom we remember with great affection, were the Sisters of Mercy to come and establish a convent,” Bishop Provost recalled. “They began what has become, so far, a 10-year service in our Diocese.”
The bishop expressed his farewell to Sister Miriam with sincere gratitude for her dedicated ministry.
“Sister Miriam has helped the people of Southwest Louisiana through many difficulties, especially those in the aftermath of dreadful hurricanes, flooding, and ice storms,” Bishop Provost shared. “She has truly led the staff of volunteers of Catholic Charities, organizing outreach and expansion of services, and keeping her fingers to the pulse of the area. May God continue His good work in Sister Miriam and all the Sisters of Mercy.”
The expansion the bishop refers to are the 11 food distribution sites in five civil parishes across the Diocese. There were only three sites when Sister Miriam began her role as director. The Catholic Charities food bank served 3,688 families (9,154 individuals) from July 2022 to June 2023 with more than one million pounds of food.
Whether it is feeding the hungry, offering rental and utilities assistance, home repairs, or help with funeral and medical expenses, Sister Miriam is aware that she cannot get the job done without countless volunteers. Between July 2022 and June 2023, a total of 8,485 volunteer hours were logged.
“Catholic Charities can serve the needs of the community because of the hard work and generosity of the people here,” she said. “I have learned there comes that time when you realize you cannot do it alone. God does provide. The more generous we are, the more generous He is through His people.”
Rev. Jeffrey Starkovich, Pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Ragley, said he has been privileged to work alongside Sister Miriam regarding expansion and disaster relief efforts in Beauregard Parish. He noted that her role as director has been one of great growth and he will miss her greatly.
“Sister Miriam made great strides to expand outreach beyond Calcasieu Parish into the greater parish area. Anytime there was a situation where she believed Catholic Charities could be of help, Sister was there to bring charity and assistance,” Father Starkovich said. “Her faith was always on display. I am grateful for her years of humble service.”
Another area of the diocese benefiting from expansion of Catholic Charities is Jeff Davis Parish at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Jennings where Rev. Trey Ange serves as Pastor.
“With great patience and persistence, Sister Miriam prayerfully pushed to have John Windt Hall prepared to house Catholic Charities here at Immaculate Conception,” said Father Ange. “We now have an office for Catholic Charities where hundreds of residents have been helped in just a few short months since its opening in late Spring of 2023.”
Observing the tremendous need in the Immaculate Conception neighborhood alone, Father Ange remarked, “We are extremely grateful for Sister Miriam and her perseverance to make this a reality for our neighborhood and Jeff Davis Parish. We will miss Sister Miriam severely.”
Looking back to those early days after Hurricane Laura, Stephanie Rodrigue, Director of Development for the Diocese of Lake Charles, worked closely with Sister Miriam to set up the “Giving Back to Cameron Parish” Distribution Site at Hacketts Corner for gasoline, diesel, ice, fans, cleaning supplies, hygiene, baby and food supplies.
“Sister Miriam’s confidence in others to quickly develop a game plan when a need presents itself — whether large or small — encourages effective teamwork,” said Rodrigue. “Her tireless energy in working side by side to see a project through to fruition creates a desire to imitate. We are all better people for having had the gift of Sister Miriam in our lives.”
Catholic Charities has also worked closely with the city of Lake Charles providing shelter in freezing weather or assisting with water bills during the COVID shutdown when many were out of work. Mayor Nic Hunter said that Sister Miriam is one of his heroes, praising her for helping people through some of the most severe trials in this community’s history.
“The English language doesn’t contain the proper words to describe the appreciation I have for Sister Miriam and the inspiration she has provided to this community,” said Mayor Hunter.
“Never seeking the limelight, never looking to gain any notoriety, and always respectful of those she is serving, her number one goal has always been helping people in the name of Jesus Christ,” the mayor continued. “I wish Sister Miriam well in her next chapter. She will always have a home here in Lake Charles.”
Through those challenging times, Sister Miriam said she has been humbled by the perseverance, faith, and humility of those she serves and is appreciative for the bishop’s invitation to serve in the Diocese.
“I am grateful for Bishop Provost’s consistent care and direction of Catholic Charities, helping us to stay focused on reaching the entirety of the Diocese throughout the many difficulties we have endured,” said Sister Miriam.
Sister Marie Josepha Kluczny, RSM, will assume the role of Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana on September 25. She has been serving as Vice President of Mission and Ministry at Saint Francis Health System in the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sister Marie Josepha is expected to arrive in the Diocese of Lake Charles on September 22.
For more information Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana, visit www.catholiccharitiesswla.com.