This story originally appeared in Clarion Herald by Peter Finney
Marianite Sister Marjorie Hebert, the president and CEO of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, grew up in an Algiers family of seven children, whose Catholic numbers and modest income – her mom was a cashier at K&B Drug Store on Canal Street – dictated a budgeted routine of serving simple family meals.
“I started cooking at about age 11 because my mother (Estelle) went back to work as a cashier,” said Sister Marjorie, the eldest daughter, recalling how her mother took the ferry to get to her job at K&B. “She would start the dinner, and then I would pick up when she went to work. We would have this one dish on Monday and something else on Tuesday and so on, the rest of the week. The fanciest we got was on Sunday. Eventually, as I got older and more experienced, she let me do more.”
Sister Marjorie and her siblings attended Holy Name of Mary School in Algiers from kindergarten through 12th grade, which was staffed by the Marianite Sisters of the Holy Cross and Marist priests.
Sister Marjorie had been thinking about entering religious life in part because she got such joy seeing the sisters deal with their students. She was just 17 when she graduated from Holy Name of Mary, so she worked for three months in the billing office of a local pest control company before entering.
“They were so disappointed that I was leaving,” Sister Marjorie recalled. “I had a Baptist manager and he asked me, ‘Why are you just going to throw away your life?’ I told him, ‘Well, don’t you think God deserves good people, too?’”
At the time Sister Marjorie entered the Marianites, there was a community of 100 sisters, many of them pursuing education degrees at Our Lady of Holy Cross College in Algiers. As a novice, Sister Marjorie recalls joining the other newbies in their role of serving the older sisters and cleaning the dishes.
She never got to cook in the community kitchen, but her passion for creating food has remained to this day.
Her mother never wrote down any recipes, preferring to eyeball the ingredients from her lifetime experience, but Sister Marjorie’s late sister Catherine, who was not really a good cook, sat down with a notepad and transcribed what she saw her mother doing so that the recipes could be immortalized for the family.
“She even wrote down, ‘Use large spoon for the gumbo,’” Sister Marjorie laughed.
Cooking has always been “therapeutic” for Sister Marjorie. She loves to cook by herself, with nothing to distract her except the occasional Saints football game.
“I want to be alone in the kitchen, because when I get alone, it’s therapy,” Sister Marjorie said. “It’s really therapeutic because you can just release it.”
Sister Marjorie taught at St. Mary of the Angels in New Orleans, St. Christopher the Martyr in Metairie and Christ the King in Terrytown before being named principal of Christ the King at the age of 26.
As a principal, she befriended Leonard Fine, a former public school principal who revolutionized the archdiocesan tuition-payment program by getting banks to allow parents to finance the yearly tuition over 10 months.
Sister Marjorie’s wealth of ideas and her comfort in asking tough questions caught the eye of Catholic Schools superintendent Howard Jenkins, who invited her to come aboard as a regional superintendent.
“He told me, ‘I’d much rather have you with me than against me,’” Sister Marjorie laughed.
After serving in the archdiocese, Sister Marjorie left New Orleans to become the assistant superintendent and then superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Alexandria-Shreveport. There followed stints on the leadership team of the Marianites.
In 1997, Sister Marjorie was a major player in conceptualizing Our Lady of Wisdom Health Care Center in Algiers, which was envisioned as a care facility for the growing population of elderly religious. When it opened in Christmas 1999, Our Lady of Wisdom was home to 100 sisters from various congregations, as well as laity.
In 2013, Sister Marjorie was named president and CEO of Catholic Charities.
The demands of the last two years have been intense.
“I can proudly say we did not have a shutdown in any program where we were no longer doing services,” Sister Marjorie said. “We had to modify a lot of things, especially when COVID kept us in isolation.”
Catholic Charities helped 4,000 residents of Lake Charles who fled Hurricane Laura in 2020, and a new hurricane season awaits.
Sister Marjorie loves the simplicity of Lent. She recalls the Triduum devotions of her youth – Mass on Holy Thursday morning, followed by a Sodality procession, the 40 Hours devotion, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.
Several years ago, she and her relatives began making the nine-church walk on Good Friday. She also attends Stations of the Cross every Friday at St. Rita Church in New Orleans.
“That instantly brought back to me the sisters at Holy Name of Mary, who paraded us across the street to the church for the Stations,” she said. “What I saw in the sisters really was the fostering of my vocation. I was one of those students who always asked, ‘Sister, you want me to clap the erasers?’”
Her advice to families? Include the children in parties that celebrate big occasions. Sharing family stories around food and fun is important, she says, especially for children.
“My grandmother would tell the adults in the family, ‘I am paying for the Cokes and the RC Colas for the kids, and you should have the kids at these parties.’ And, they listened to her,” Sister Marjorie said.
3 large eggplants
2 medium onions, chopped
1 pound bacon, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1½ cups Italian style breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons parsley flakes
¼ teaspoon rosemary
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and dice eggplants. Soak in salted water. Cook chopped bacon until brown. Drain off all but a ½ cup of grease, add onion and garlic, and cook slowly until onions are clear. Add eggplant, parsley, cumin, thyme, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook on very low heat until eggplant is tender, stirring frequently. Add breadcrumbs. Mix well and cook about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and spoon into casserole dish. Dot with butter/margarine and lightly sprinkle more breadcrumbs over the top. Before serving, bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until breadcrumbs are brown.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons flour
3 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined; season with salt, pepper, garlic powder
2 medium/large onions, chopped
3 to 4 stalks celery, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 (15-ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 pound sliced okra, chopped fine
½ pound lump crabmeat
2 to 3 bay leaves
1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes, puree
Cover bottom of large pot with cooking oil, sauté onions on low fire, add tomato sauce and let it cook down for 20 minutes. Add okra, and let it cook down for 20 minutes. Add shrimp, and let it cook down for 20 minutes. Then add all remaining seasonings. Simmer on low heat. Rinse sauce cans with a little water in each, and add to the pot. Cook for another 30 minutes or so. Add dry seasoning if needed, depending on your taste. Add water as needed.
8 tablespoons margarine
1 onion, chopped
1 sweet pepper, chopped
3 pounds fresh shrimp, shelled and deveined
4 tablespoons flour, sifted
Salt, pepper, cayenne, parsley
Sauté onions and pepper in margarine until wilted. Add shrimp and cook until bubbly. Sprinkle flour and seasonings over mixture. Cover tightly and let simmer about 1 hour. Serve over hot rice or pasta, with buttered French bread. Crawfish may be substituted for shrimp.