Sister Michele Ann Intravia serves the voiceless in southern Indiana

(Sister Michele Ann Intravia, left, and JoAnn Smith stand next to car seats and Pack ‘n Plays that Catholic Charities provides to new mothers.)

When news spread that the lone hospital in Perry County, Ind., was closing its obstetrics department at the end of 2023, Ursuline Sister Michele Ann “Shellie” Intravia knew she would be called on to help.

“Now pregnant women will have to go to Evansville or Jasper to have their babies,” Sister Shellie said, referencing two Indiana cities that are both nearly an hour away. “Pregnant women have to go to the doctor every month for prenatal care. Many of these women are low-income and have no transportation.”

Sister Shellie is the director of Catholic Charities in Perry County, a mostly rural area in southern Indiana just across the Ohio River from Hawesville, Ky. It will be three years in January 2024 since Sister Shellie took on the role, and it’s been nonstop ever since. That’s because for even the non-Catholics in the area, Catholic Charities is their first call for help.

“If pregnant women have Medicaid, they can get a ride for their doctor’s appointment. But they don’t know that,” Sister Shellie said. “We have to educate people.”

After 19 years as a special education teacher or principal, Sister Shellie has spent the past 20 years serving the poor. The week of Nov. 13, 2023, she met with the Tell City mayor about the need for decent low-income and transitional housing.

“We have invisible homelessness in Tell City. People don’t think we have a problem,” she said. “I’ve had four homeless women call me this week. We have no place to put them. I started working with a homeless man in August, and I finally got him into housing in September.”

She thought the law required that landlords had to provide adequate utilities for their renters, but she found that isn’t the case.

“We have people who are not being treated humanely,” Sister Shellie said. “It’s a case of justice.”

Sister Shellie Intravia at her desk at Catholic Charities of Perry County. Part of her nun doll collection keeps her company.

These latest issues are in addition to the daily ways Sister Shellie and her lone part-time employee, JoAnn Smith, help people who are living in poverty.

Many of their weekly duties are assisting people with utilities and rent, along with gasoline for out-of-town doctors’ appointments. She is constantly seeking new funding sources to fill the growing needs. She does a Christmas appeal and a Lenten appeal, and she began a raffle around Independence Day.

“All the money from the Salvation Army bellringers comes to us. We use it to help with utilities and rent,” she said.

A grant from the Community Foundation is helping provide car seats and Pack ‘n Plays for new mothers. Previously, Catholic Charities had to buy those from its existing funds. The grant also pays for tents for homeless people.

One of Sister Shellie’s favorite weekly events is the Table of Blessing meal on Thursdays. She contacts everyone she can in Tell City – the utility companies, banks, churches, the police chief, the mayor, insurance companies, the historical society – to take turns being in charge of a meal for the needy.

“Each group brings a meal and serves it, then cleans up,” she said. “I have a core group that supplies drinks, wraps utensils and washes dishes. The groups arrive at 4 p.m., serve at 5, and we’re finished at 6. We serve 55-65 people a week,” Sister Shellie said. “It’s very ecumenical, I love that. Lots of fellowship takes place.” She already has the majority of Thursday nights scheduled for 2024.

Catholic Charities also serves as the fiscal agent for the Perry County Food Coalition, a group of five food pantries. The office serves as a drop-off point for food donations, and representatives of the pantries collect the food for distribution. Financial donations are made through Catholic Charities to disseminate to the pantries.

“Because of an increase in food prices and utilities, my food coalition serves so many people every week,” Sister Shellie said. “In October, the food pantry in Cannelton served 212 families. In Tell City, it was 261 families. The others serve about 50 families.”

At mid-afternoon on a Thursday, Sister Shellie took a call from a volunteer seeking her guidance on how to distribute turkeys and hams to the various food pantries. He also picked up some used chairs from the city auction if anyone had a need.

“Every five seconds I get a message or a call,” she said, only half joking.

Whatever Sister Shellie is doing seems to be working. She reports to the Catholic Charities office in Indianapolis, where she learned that donations nationally are down this year, but the Tell City office donations are up.

“I send information called ‘Charities Chat’ to all the parish secretaries of the 10 parishes in the deanery. It explains how every dollar we receive is spent,” Sister Shellie said. “I think it has really helped.”

While serving emergency needs is a vital part of her ministry, trying to educate people to help lift themselves out of poverty is an important role.

“We have a budget basics class,” she said. “When people are chronically asking for money, we require them to attend these classes. It’s a one-hour class, it meets two times,” Sister Shellie said. Attendance is mandatory if people want to continue receiving assistance.

Sister Shellie serves on a multitude of committees, and expects her efforts to create transitional housing will result in yet another one. It took her two years to feel fully grounded in the job, she said.

“Lots of people know who I am,” she said. “It’s a good place to be.”

“I think Saint Angela would be all for what I’m doing,” Sister Shellie said. “She’d be right in there helping me. This is what she was all about. It’s an extension of our ministry. I’m not in a classroom, but we do an awful lot of teaching.”


  1. Michele Morek

    Wonderful report from Tell City–a lovely little river city with great people. Shellie is fitting in and doing a much needed ministry. Thanks Shellie!

  2. Cecelia J. Olinger

    No doubt you’re right where you need to be, Shellie, and doing an awesome job! Blessings be upon you and those you serve and minister with.

  3. Susan Scott

    So proud of the work you’re doing, Sr. Shellie. I agree that St. Angela would be very happy with all the work you’re doing. It’s remarkable! Keep it up!!

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