Birth: July 11, 1931
Profession: Feb. 11, 1961
Death: Feb. 9, 2009
Carmela Parisi, RSCJ, was born July 11, 1931, in Clayville, NY, daughter of the late Dominic and Rose Ferrano Parisi. Mr. Parisi had been a widower, so Carmela had four older half-brothers, Anthony, Mario, Joseph and James (all now deceased), as well as two brothers, Philip who married Marion, Salvatore who married Lucille, and two sisters, Mary Kurfess and Sister Marina Rose (Virginia) Parisi, HNJM, all of Washington State.
When Carmela was eight years old, her father took his second family back to the family farm in San Hilario, in Calabria, Italy. There she experienced German occupation, war-time privations, and American occupation. Her mother was wonderfully inventive in feeding and clothing the family from the farm; the girls helped by cultivating silk worms. Fortunately they had retained U. S. citizenship and were repatriated in 1945. They returned to upstate New York for two years where she attended Bleeker Elementary and then Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Elementary; in spite of language barriers she was always the best student in her class, according to her sister Virginia. It was then that she first heard the call to follow Jesus as a consecrated religious.
In 1947 the family relocated to Seattle; because of their ages, her father did not let the older girls continue their education. Rather they worked in a clothing factory to help support the family. The three sisters then began the custom of rising at 4 AM to go by bus to the 6:30 Mass at St. James Cathedral. A young priest of that time still remembers them and says they have been an inspiration throughout his life. During these years Carmela’s desire to become a cloistered Carmelite religious became stronger and stronger. However, when she spoke to the monastery in Seattle they said they had their maximum number, but suggested the Society of the Sacred Heart. Because of parental opposition, she ‘eloped,’ as it were, and on February 1, 1953, she left for San Diego where she entered the Society of the Sacred Heart as a postulant under the direction of Mother Genevieve Clarke at then San Diego College for Women. She often said that her years there as a cloistered religious were among the happiest of her life. However, those who knew her in the classroom with young children, especially in pre-K, know that her contact with them also gave her many happy hours.
Sister Parisi made her First Vows at San Diego College for Women August 22, 1955 and took her final vows on February 11, 1961, in El Cajon, CA. After Vatican II, studying part-time, she received her B.A. from Lone Mountain College, San Francisco, and a degree in Early Childhood Education from Bellevue Community College. She taught primary and pre-primary children at Forest Ridge, Seattle; at Broadway, San Francisco; and at The Rosary, New Orleans. After retiring in 2002, she served at The Good Shepherd School, New Orleans, as the religion teacher in its inaugural year and then returned to The Rosary as an Aide in the Pre-Kindergarten. In all these schools she was noted for her love of little children, and their love for her.
When she left Broadway she received a glowing recommendation from the then Assistant Principal: “Sister Parisi ‘connects’ with both children and parents conveying feelings of acceptance and appreciation. Her sincerity is obvious in her smile and extended arms as she reaches out to her students upon their arrival each day. Always arriving early, she sets up the classroom for the children, freeing her to give them full attention when they walk through the door. She is always available and responsive to them. She has a way of helping children know that they are important while at the same time leading them to discover the importance of others. She has ‘civilized’ hundreds of children, earning the gratitude and respect of numerous parents.” All this was also true of her years at the Rosary. As the Head of the Lower School said, Sr. Parisi was always ready to fill in, do whatever would help, and work with the faculty; she was essential to the “Dream Team” of the pre-K faculty. At her Vigil Service and Funeral in the Rosary Chapel students up to 12th grade and their parents came with their memories of her classroom, and tributes came from those who had known her at Broadway.
Sister Parisi’s other “ministry” was to those at the five churches she regularly attended, the staff at the Fitness Center at the local hospital, those she met on the street as she took long walks around New Orleans saying her rosary, always looking for dropped coins (and sometimes bills) for her charities; she regularly sent checks to Soboba, Haiti, and other special causes with her “found money.”
Unfortunately, her two sisters and a niece from the West Coast were not able to arrive before her death February 9, 2009 after a stroke, but were present for her services in the chapel at The Rosary. Her many friends were represented among the honorary pallbearers, and the four priests in the sanctuary for her funeral gave touching eulogies. She was buried in the newly refurbished RSCJ Cemetery at Grand Coteau, with the Headmaster, the Head of the Lower School and the “Dream Team” as well as RSCJ present to sing as the parish priest blessed the coffin at the short ceremony.
Not only is Carmela missed as a person, but her ever practical suggestions in the community, her contributions to community and area discussions, her ability to produce whatever was needed from her storage spots – especially Mardi Gras memorabilia, and her delicious meals leave a real void since she left us so quickly.