Sr. Choiniere, Joy and Tireless Advocate of Special Education, Dies at 91

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Sr. Mary Choiniere (CSJ) served as Director of Special Education for the Archdiocese of Detroit for over 26 years and as a Fellow Pastor in the Parish of St. Arran (later Christ Our Light) in Troy for over 20 years. In these roles, she was a staunch advocate for people with disabilities and lobbied church and civic leaders for resources to care for people with different abilities.(File photo from Detroit Catholic)

Troy — Those who knew CSJ’s Mary Choiniere knew at least two things about her.

First, she had a joyful and energetic heart to serve others, especially those with special needs. Second, if Ms. Chaunière asked for your help, she had your help.

“Oh, she was a dynamo,” laughs Pam La Grassa, coordinator of Christ’s Special Needs Ministries, Our Wright Parish of Troy, where Lord Choniere was a pastor’s companion for nearly 20 years. “She didn’t say no, and I mean that in a good way.”

For decades, Sr. Choiniere, who has lobbied to establish and expand ministries to help the sick, the poor and the disabled throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit, announced on September 5, 91 died at age

For more than 26 years, she served as the Director of Special Needs Programs for the Archdiocese of Detroit, impacting countless people in Southeast Michigan.

Born November 30, 1930, in Detroit to Joseph and Florence (Chartier) Chaunière, Sr., received the name Senior Geneviève Marie on January 2, 1949, when she entered the Order of St. Joseph of Nazareth. She later returned to using her baptismal name, taking her first vows on July 2, 1951 and her last on July 2, 1954.

After graduating from Nazareth College with degrees in Biology and Chemistry, Sr. Choiniere worked at St. Benedict in Highland Park, St. Veronica in Eastpoint, St. Francis Home for Boys in Detroit, St. Joseph in St. John’s and Barber. I taught at He studied at the Hall Military Academy in Kalamazoo before earning a master’s degree in management from Central Michigan University in 1968.

For the next 26 years, she oversaw the special education programs of the Archdiocese of Detroit, followed by 20 years of pastorship in the Parish of St.

A lively, playful, polka-loving nun, Sr. Choiniere made waves wherever she went. Among her achievements are founding the parish version of the Special Olympics (a long-running event called “The Happening” held on her Foley High School campus in Bishop, Madison Heights) and working with children with various disabilities. There was a catechism and training program for adults. need for education.

As the archdiocese’s special needs coordinator, Sr. Choiniere successfully lobbied archbishops and legislators to increase support for “the most helpless people in the diocese,” from hearing aids to buses to meal programs.

Senior Mary Chaunière, CSJ is pictured with Fr. Don Demar, Pastor of Christ Our Light Parish in Troy. This file photo.  At Christ Our Light, Sr. Choiniere organized a catechism program to prepare children with special needs for the sacrament and recruited volunteers who were always eager to help.  (Courtesy of Pam La Grassa)

Senior Mary Chaunière, CSJ is pictured with Fr. Don Demar, Pastor of Christ Our Light Parish in Troy. This file photo. At Christ Our Light, Sr. Choiniere organized a catechism program to prepare children with special needs for the sacrament and recruited volunteers who were always eager to help. (Courtesy of Pam La Grassa)

“She had this heart for those in need,” said La Grassa. And you love it and want to do it forever.

Her powers of persuasion were not confined to lay people and clergy.

Among her close friends was the late Cardinal Edmund C. Soca.

It was Sr. Choiniere who persuaded the Cardinals to support her vision of hosting the Olympic Games for Special Needs in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Gain the confidence to be your best self.

“She loved Cardinal Soca. She loved how they laughed and worked together,” said La Grassa. “When Cardinal Soca visited the Special Olympics, it was a big deal. He was a little nervous, but she took him with her students. I approached him and gave him a baseball cap to wear and he took off his miter and put it on. They laughed. That was his way of saying, ‘You got me.'”

Cardinal Soca eventually became one of the church’s biggest supporters of special education. So much so that Lord Chaunière affectionately called him “the patron saint of the disabled”.

La Grassa recalled that the annual Special Olympics fundraising event at Hazel Park Raceway became an event in itself.

“It brought people together and built community,” said La Grassa. “People look forward to serving at special Olympics, working in booths, or just making friends and participating. That was her gift.”

Ms. La Grassa said Ms. Choniere’s heart for those in need extended to those who were suffering in one way or another, especially those in mourning. and visited with people who had wakes and even people she didn’t know.

“She loved going to wakes and funerals and praying with people,” said La Grassa. “She knew what to say. She brought out her sorrows and joys and pains. She had this gift of relating to exactly what people needed.” .”

As pastor of Christ Our Light, Sr. Choiniere frequently brought communion to those in his home, looked people in the eye and told them how much they were loved.

But what she loved most was serving people with disabilities. To work tirelessly to enable people of all abilities to receive the sacraments and participate in parish life, to create catechism programs adapted to those with sensory needs, and to work with children of all abilities. Called for volunteers.

For a petite nun with an oversized personality, Sr. Choiniere’s demands weren’t very convincing.

“When I arrived at Christ Our Light, she asked me to coordinate a special needs program. You’re a legend and I don’t have your talent,” La Grassa said.

Ultimately, though, La Grassa recalled, “I couldn’t say no to Sister.”

Lord Choynière’s funeral mass was held on Tuesday, September 13, at the Nazareth Center in Kalamazoo.

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