Proclaiming Jesus through education and Christian formation.

Sisters in Ministry June 2012
Sister Michele Ann Intravia finds a new classroom with the poor

One of the ways the Sister Visitor Center helps people is by providing groceries and other items, which are stored in this renovated pantry. Here, Sister Michele looks over some groceries with volunteers Sue Smith and Danny Trent.

Ursuline Sister Michele Ann Intravia thought she would be a teacher all her professional life. Even in her job as manager of operations for the Sister Visitor Center in Louisville, Ky., she’s still teaching.

“I try to talk to as many people as possible. Our clients lack education,” Sister Michele said. The Sister Visitor Center provides emergency help with food, clothing, medication, rent and utilities in one of the poorest sections of Louisville.

“I try to get them to understand a budget, maybe we can get them out of poverty,” Sister Michele said. “We have people who are proud that they came here as a little girl with their grandmother, and now they’re here as an adult. Our hope is to help them to be self-sustainable.”

After 19 years in education, and a short time ministering at the Motherhouse and then in Chile, South America, Sister Michele came to the Sister Visitor Center as a case manager in November 2005. When the former manager of operations retired, Sister Michele was promoted in May 2011.

“I didn’t give the higher-ups a choice, I said ‘this is the woman we need,’” said Lucio Caruso, director of case management and family support services for Catholic Charities of Louisville, the umbrella agency that oversees Sister Visitor.

“She has personal skills, a way of being with people,” Caruso said. “People like being around her. She’s very welcoming and affirming of people. She values everybody and shows gratitude.” Caruso said Sister Michele is attentive to detail, and nothing gets past her. “She brings the Ursuline spirit. That faith rootedness is important to me,” he said.

Sister Michele, right, is one of four Ursuline Sisters ministering at the Sister Visitor Center. The other three are, from left, Sister Maureen O’Neill, Sister Margaret Marie Greenwell and Sister Grace Simpson.

One of the first changes Sister Michele – who most everyone calls “Shellie” – encouraged among Catholic Charities was an increase in spirituality in the workplace. “When we gathered as Catholic Charities, it’s like we lost the concept of God,” she said. “I said, ‘We never pray.’ (Lucio) said, ‘We’re going to change that.’ At Thanksgiving and Christmas, we asked other people to do the blessing in their native tongues. It brought us together. It’s important not to lose that.”

There are three other Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph ministering at the Sister Visitor Center – Sisters Grace Simpson, Maureen O’Neill and Margaret Marie Greenwell. As a case manager, Sister Michele knew that at times her peers felt they were out of the loop on what was happening, so she has worked to change that. An experience she had as a teacher taught her what unfairness could do to morale.

“Sister Maureen and I were teachers and there was no air conditioning in the classrooms,” she said. “But it always worked in the principal’s office.”

Her fellow Ursulines recognize a divergence of skills that make Sister Michele so good in her role.

“Sister Shellie’s skills are in public relations, she has very good social skills,” Sister Grace said. She has been a case manager for 28 years at Sister Visitor. “She has the poor at heart, you wouldn’t work here without the poor at heart.”

“Shellie’s greatest gift is outreach,” said Sister Margaret Marie, the receptionist. “She’s a hard worker, and will learn whatever she can for the good of Sister Visitor. Shellie really supports my job and connects with me. She’s doing a great job.”

Sister Michele goes over an issue with case manager Liz Mayes at the Sister Visitor Center.

This is the third place Sister Michele and Sister Maureen have ministered and lived together. They taught across the hall from each other in Paducah, Ky., and were educators in Mayfield, Ky., as well. “I was principal in Mayfield, she worked under me,” Sister Maureen said. “Now that has changed,” she said with a laugh. “She brings a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm. She’s been one of us, she knows better what we’re going through. She knows what we’re talking about.”

Workers at the Sister Visitor Center see 35-40 people a day. “One story gets heavier than the next. It’s not an easy job,” Sister Michele said. “The volunteers say they don’t know how we do it every day.

“In our encounters with clients, we ask how they are doing. They say, ‘I am very blessed, I was able to breathe today,’” Sister Michele said. “We’re not supposed to proselytize, but people feel free to share with us because they know we are sisters. It brings out a freedom to share their faith.”

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