Sr. Claire Coll, C.S.C.
By Katie Fiermonti, Photography by Charlene Graham
Sister Claire Coll, C.S.C., was born in 1938, but she firmly believes her spiritual life is still unfolding. As a member of the order known as Sisters of Holy Cross, Sister Claire is continually evaluating, growing, and learning more about her faith. “I constantly strive to become,” she says. “I strive to put on the mind and heart of Jesus. It’s a becoming. Each day offers a new opportunity for growth.”
It’s an attitude that shapes Sister Claire’s daily work at the Berakah Retreat and Renewal Center in Pittsfield, where she lives as one of five intercongregational sisters. Together they operate the center in a beautiful, rambling house, open to nonprofit groups of all types for retreats and various programs. Berakah means “place of blessing.” “I saw a great need for continued education for adults, to help people discover themselves,” says Sister Claire, who has been at Berakah since 1993. Though officially retired, she still attends to the administrative side of the retreat house. Before 2012, the center’s sisters also provided a renewal program for women of ministry, welcoming women from all over the world. “That was terrific,” Sister Claire remembers. “I felt like I was a missionary, with them coming to us. It was touching to see the faith and commitment of these women.”
Helping and educating people are hallmarks of the Sisters of Holy Cross, founded in Le Mans, France, in 1841 by Blessed Basil Moreau. The sisters were sent to the United States in 1881 as missionaries, and today there are approximately one hundred in New Hampshire. Their ministry is to pray for and serve the poor and marginalized. Many Holy Cross sisters in New Hampshire help immigrants at the Holy Cross Family Center in Manchester. They wear lay clothes, and are dedicated to Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Compassion, who remained with Jesus at the foot of the cross.
“What I love about Holy Cross is that it’s very supportive and prayerful,” remarks Sister Claire. “It’s open to seeing where God is leading us. It’s open to the needs of today. I also appreciate its willingness to question itself and continue to grow.”
Sister Claire always knew that her heart belonged to God. “You might say Holy Cross is in my blood, so to speak,” she says with a smile. She was raised in Suncook and schooled by sisters in the same order she would eventually join in 1960, taking her vows in 1962. She was influenced by her aunt, a Sister of Holy Cross, as well as by a teacher, who set her on a path to obtaining her own teaching degree from Keene State College.“Holy Cross tries to be the manifestation of Christ in our world today,” says Sister Claire. “We live according to Christ and the gospels, called to be mystics and prophets. We ask, ‘Where is Christ, and how do I respond to Him?’ Specifically, how do we become the magi of God? I really resound to the charism of the Holy Cross.”
Sister Claire hopes that young women might consider her order, given that there is such need for ministering to the poor. “If someone was interested in my order I would tell them that if they want to do the work that Christ has left us to do, look no further. You will become a sign of God’s love for humankind, especially the poor and the marginalized. If they are interested in standing for justice, this is the place to be. They will be helped and supported by the community. Life as a religious woman is a lifelong process of ever becoming more fully a follower of Christ.”