Sr. Claire Francois – Jeanne Chantal Gurliat
of St. Didier, Haute Savoie
who died at Grand Chêne, Vieugy
on 10th July 2021
aged 99 years, 80 of Religious Profession.
Sr Claire Françoise was born in St Didier, Haute Savoie, on 16 February 1922, 99 and a half years ago. In reality, her origin goes back much further. It goes back to God. She was – as we all are - the fruit of God's eternal Love, a “fruit” beginning as a seed to grow. She was baptised at 10 days old. Claire was 12 years old when her mother died, leaving 4 children: 2 boys and 2 girls aged between 7 and 13 years old.
In August 1930, she received her first communion, followed the next year by her confirmation. Jesus had said: "I have come to bring fire to the earth". Fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. In 1939, aged seventeen and a half, she entered the novitiate. Her first "yes" committed her life, followed by other "yeses": her first vows in 1941, her annual renewal of vows and then her Final Profession in 1945.
With her elementary school diploma, she began her apostolate as a teacher at St. Francis School, Annecy. It was 1941, a difficult period of occupation for everyone. The Germans occupied St François school. The pupils were scattered to various places in the town and the teaching sisters lived in Sevrier. They had to walk to school which had no heating and before that they had to attend mass at 6.00a.m having fasted all night.
Sr Claire was sent to many communities. She had a rich personality: original, independent, not at all conformist, very friendly, optimistic, free, and attracted by everything new. She related very easily to all people, whatever their age or social background. She was particularly interested in the underprivileged.
1960 was a turning point in her apostolate at the Chamarette school, Annemasse. Until then, she had been teaching children with a “normal” school career. But more and more children were dropping out. She decided to devote herself to them in transitional classes before they could follow a course in manual training. The teaching method had to be concrete and adapted to their needs, a personalised pedagogy with an emphasis on the child's positive potential. It was a magnificent inventive and concrete experience! She managed to interest her pupils in a subject that was usually boring: the geography of Europe. The school was well located in Annemasse, "the gateway to France", as it used to be called. The "Route Blanche" linking Geneva to Chamonix was under construction. Many trucks passed in front of the school. This created a good opportunity to study the different countries of Europe from the number plates on the trucks. One of the staff who managed the work took an interest in the children and occasionally took them to visit some construction or other. During this period of teaching, St Clare's skills were extended to include photography and painting.
Her retirement was a new turning point in her ever-innovative activities. She began to work in the field of tourism. She became close to the seasonal workers who arrived without knowing where to stay, eat or sleep. In order to get to know them better, she did not hesitate to go where she knew where to find them: cafés, bars; normally places that the sisters did not frequent.
She was also asked to give French lessons to the au pairs, who were more or less exploited. She studied the legislation that concerned them in order to better defend their rights. She took up another completely new activity in the Congregation: cross-country skiing. This enabled her to make contact with hikers and, subsequently, to train as a hiker's guide and thus be able to offer her services free of charge to people of modest means.
Sr Claire was able to fill her taste for the new and novel by spending 7 years in Marseille, from 1993 to 2000; 8 years in Paris, from 2000 to 2008; and even 1 month in Algeria with Sr Anne Gertrude, 2 years after independence, a very difficult period in that country.
A keen sportswoman, she still walked for 2 hours every day at the age of 97. But now the time had come for the last stage of her life and so she joined the Grand Chêne community, Vieugy, in 2019. On Saturday 10 July that she joined the One to whom she gave her life, 82 years earlier when she entered the family of the Sisters of St Joseph.
"Death is a lamp that is extinguished when the day breaks," she wrote. Goodbye, Sister Claire. How much more you have to discover in the Father's House! But do not forget to help us on the tortuous path that leads to the Light of God the Trinity of Life.