Birth: September 6, 1919
Profession: Feb. 11, 1944
Death: September 19, 2012
Religious of the Sacred Heart Anita Villeré, who loved God’s creation and enjoyed sharing her artistic gifts, died Wednesday, September 19, at Oakwood, the Society of the Sacred Heart’s elder care center in Atherton, California. Her life will be celebrated in a Mass of Christian Burial Tuesday, October 23 at 10:00 a.m. at Oakwood, 140 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, CA 94027. Burial will be at the Oakwood cemetery in Atherton.
Born September 6, 1919 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Anita Villeré, was one of six children of Paul and Anita Bouligny Villeré. All four daughters attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans – The Rosary. In addition to her parents, she was predeceased by her siblings, brothers, Rev. Jean Villeré, Rev. Charles Villeré, OSB, and Andre Villeré, and sisters, Louise Villeré, OP, Elmire Drackett and Marie Therese Lapeyre. She is survived by nieces Religious of the Sacred Heart Anita Lapeyre, of Redwood City, California, Peggy Villeré Damerest and Micheline Villeré Gomilla of New Orleans, and Marie Elise Villeré Mattingly of Oregon; one nephew, André Villeré of New Orleans, numerous grand-nieces and nephews, as well as former students and colleagues.
After earning a scholarship from The Rosary, Sister Villeré earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Maryville University in St. Louis, also founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart. She later earned a master’s degree from St. Louis University. She entered the Society of the Sacred Heart in Albany in 1941 and professed her first vows there in 1944. She made her final vows in Rome in 1949.
An educator by training and by temperament, Sister Villeré began and ended her active ministry teaching. She began teaching in 1944 at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. In 1947, she moved to the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles, Missouri, where she stayed for two years before teaching at Clifton Academy of the Sacred Heart in Cincinnati. Then from 1949 to 1968, she served as headmistress of Sacred Heart schools in Cincinnati (Clifton), St. Louis (City House), Grand Coteau and New Orleans. During those years, she also served as dean of students at Maryville College for two years.
After gaining her master’s degree in counseling, Sister Villeré began counseling in 1968, first at Maryville, then in Grand Coteau, where she also served as superior for the Society of the Sacred Heart community. She served as counselor at Villa Duchesne in St. Louis, 1971-76, before returning to The Rosary, first as a counselor, then as principal of the high school. For a number of years, during summers, she was a member of the Corporate Ministry program at St. Louis University.
In 1981, Sister Villeré began a social services ministry as director at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Center in New Orleans, where she remained until 1992. She spent three years providing hospitality to visitors at the U.S. provincial offices in St. Louis, before accepting an invitation to serve in pastoral care at Oakwood in 1994. There she was able to indulge her love of art through pen and ink drawings and watercolors. She shared her talents not only by giving away much of her artwork, but by teaching art classes to the residents. She moved to Oakwood as a resident in 2006, but continued her pastoral care ministry.
“Nita, an introspective introvert, nevertheless devoted herself to others and their needs. She watched over the children in her care with a loving eye,” wrote a former student and long-time friend. “Her primary love was given to her Lord. Her prayer life was the center of her life. And Jesus Christ was the center of her prayer life. Nita loved nothing more than to spend quiet reflective time with Jesus listening to that wee small voice and adoring Him.”
Sister Villeré was a true Southerner, who loved beauty and to make others feel welcome. She felt called to serve the poor, feeling a personal unrest about the inequities of life and a sense of being touched by God in matters of justice. She served on the parish council and the parish team of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, the Sisters Council of New Orleans, was a member of the executive committee of the Association of Parish Social Ministers and the National Association of Catholic Charities.