Sister Paula Derise’s Journey to Carmel
My journey to Carmel came in mysterious ways. After my mom died, my dad remarried and I felt the marriage would have a better chance of succeeding if I left it to them. The Sisters of Mt. Carmel in Abbeville allowed me to be a boarder there. Seeing the life of the Sisters greatly influenced my vocation to Carmel.
Most of my religious life was spent teaching 7th and 8th grade students, whom I loved. Helping them through those grades and watching them mature was always a gift to me. I taught at St. James Major, St. Dominic and St. Louis King of France in the New Orleans area and in Mount Carmel, Abbeville and St. Joseph in Thibodaux. Later I became principal of Mt. Carmel, Abbeville, where I was able to watch and experience the growth in learning and in prayer of the students. Mary of Carmel was always a part of our lives at school.
After a year’s sabbatical studying pastoral ministry at Seattle University, a Jesuit University, I came home to do becoming a Director of Religious Education mainly in the New Orleans area, but I also became a parish coordinator and was in charge of St. Catherine of Alexandria in Arnaudville. I was in charge of the parish. It had no priest to serve the parishioners. These years were years of growth in prayer and in learning a lot about the needs of the African Americans in Southwest Louisiana. They taught me a how to minister to them and their needs.
From there I came back to New Orleans to be a Director of Religious Education in various parishes. My last years in this ministry helped me to realize that religious education was not just teaching religion to students, and adults organizing programs, but to be a Carmelite presence to the parishioners, no matter their age or learning. In this parish all ministers took part in all ministries. This was a time of growth for me in parish life.
Now I am in a ministry totally different for any I have ever experienced. I am a chaplain for Notre Dame Hospice. This is a ministry that meets the need of those who have around 6 months to live and their families. Some do live longer with the care they get in Hospice. Notre Dame Hospice is a ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the only Catholic hospice in this area. Archbishop Aymond writes that Notre Dame Hospice is committed to providing an atmosphere of faith, respect,
care and support to patients and their families.
The primary goal of hospice is to allow people to live the highest quality of life possible, by managing pain and other systems for families with a terminal illness, in the environment of their choice, surrounded by family and friends.
We minister to all faiths, to all who need and want us to help them at this time. We have team, which includes a doctor, a director of nurses, a bereavement coordinator, a nurse in charge of patient care, a social worker who helps in areas of need and chaplain who brings the love and compassion of Jesus to each patient. And a volunteer coordinator who makes sure each family who wants volunteers to help them has them. These pray with the patients, read to the patients, and whatever way they can help (without direct patient care). These wonderful people give the caregiver a chance to grocery shop, meet their own doctors’ appointments, even just sleep. This full team meets every two weeks to discuss each patient as a group and with the doctor. Sometimes this leads to medicine changes or ways to help the caregivers with the family members who are dying.
I minister to patients in their homes, in small group homes or in nursing homes. This ministry is a call to pray, to listen and console, to offer the compassion of God to those who are facing death and to their families. Each patient goes through some struggle facing the unknown, some worry about outliving their finances, some have family forgiveness issues that need to be addressed, some do not want to leave their loved ones. Compassionate listening and consoling prayer is needed in these times.
All of these issues and others lead us to me minister to the needs of our patients and their families, to help them in prayer even when there are no words to pray, to bring them to the peace and love that Jesus promised. After 60 years of a vowed Sister of Mount Carmel, the gift of Carmelite prayer and a life of ministry in the Church have prepared me for this call to bring the love of God and Mary to patients at this point in their lives. So I give thanks to God for my call to Carmel, and for all who have touched my life and helped my spiritual growth during these sixty- three years. My life in Carmel has been a blessing.