The Catholic News Herald
Belmont, North Carolina
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mercy sister honored for service to Lebanese community in N.C.

By Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor

BELMONT Mercy Sister Mary Michel Boulus was honored for her decades of service to the Lebanese American community Nov. 9 during a special Maronite Catholic Mass and luncheon featuring the Lebanese ambassador to the U.S. and several of her former students.  

Sister Michel was presented with a plaque from the president of Lebanon, Michel Suleiman, by Ambassador Antoine Chedid, in gratitude for the college scholarship program she started for Lebanese students in the 1970s and for the years she spent teaching English to Lebanese students.   

The scholarship program enabled Lebanese students to come to the U.S. to study at the now-closed Sacred Heart College adjacent to the Sisters of Mercy convent. Sister Michel helped them to settle into American life and helped to build up the Lebanese American community in Belmont and throughout North Carolina. 

Chedid said it took him a while to read her resume. "It is the story of devotion, humility, rightfulness and of success," the ambassador said. "Throughout her religious life, Sister Michel has served God, the Church, the human being, the needy, and saved the American people with vision, love, integrity and silent enthusiasm." 

Sister Michel's parents emigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon, and she was born in North Carolina. She entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1949, and she served as president of Sacred Heart College from 1975 to 1987. Prior to assuming administrative roles with the Sisters of Mercy, she taught at O'Donoghue High School (a forerunner of Charlotte Catholic High School), Charlotte Catholic High, Asheville Catholic High School, and at Sacred Heart Academy and College.   

During the luncheon at the Sisters of Mercy's administration center in Belmont, former students, family, dozens of fellow Mercy sisters, convent staff, and supporters recounted how Sister Michel touched their lives.

Among them was Walid Maalouf, a former student of Sister Michel's who is now a U.S. citizen, past public U.S. delegate to the United Nations and past director of public diplomacy at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"Lebanese and Lebanese Americans have a long history with the Sisters of Mercy and the former Sacred Heart College," he said during his remarks at the luncheon. "Sister Michel brought the late Danny Thomas (entertainer, philanthropist and Lebanese American) to Sacred Heart to help raise money to build the Sisters of Mercy motherhouse."

Sister Michel's scholarship program grew out of concern for Lebanese students trapped in the war-torn country during the mid-1970s.

"She decided to reach out to help the youth of Lebanon by starting the Lebanese scholarship program," Maalouf said. Dozens of students passed through the program over the next decade, helping many Lebanese to earn an education and remain to become Lebanese American leaders who are in turn helping many others.

A cedar tree, the national symbol of Lebanon, was planted on the Sacred Heart campus in 1985 in recognition and thanksgiving for the program's success.

"Your deeds are unforgettable and what you have planted continues growing to make Lebanon and the United States a better place for human dignity," Maalouf said.

A rare Maronite Catholic Mass was celebrated by Father Nabil Mouannes in the Cardinal Gibbons Memorial Chapel in Sacred Heart Convent, at Sister Michel's request. Father Mouannes, a former student of Sister Michel's, flew in from his parish in San Diego to celebrate the Mass and join fellow Lebanese Americans in honoring Sister Michel.