Childhood and Education

Claire was born in Ixelles (Brussels) 29 October 1926, a Friday, at home. Her father, Fernand, then aged 48, was working in a large insurance company, which led him to regularly travel to the Netherlands; and this is how Fernand met Lucie, in Gulpen (a village South of the Netherlands). Fernand and Lucie had already 5 children when Claire arrived : Jeanne, Lise, André, and twins Jacques and Henri. Claire has often said she was a spoiled child, arriving as “the last one”, while her younger brothers-twins were already 13 years old and her elder sister only 18.

Claire received her primary and secondary studies at the Institute of St. André, in Ixelles, a school in which her sister Jeanne would teach during many years. She received her high school diploma (Greek and Latin) in July 1944, when the war was ending. Claire’s parents were very open­minded : their home would regularly welcome priests (from China, India or elsewhere) who came to study at the Catholic University of Louvain.

This is probably what influenced Claire to become a member of Lay Auxiliaries for the Mission (ALM), when she was only 18 years old (1944). By joining this young asso­ciation, initially reserved for young ladies, Claire wanted to follow the example of Father Vincent Lebbe who put himself at the service of the young Catholic Church in China. In spite of her young age, she made the triple vow to “serve the Church in non-Christian countries, to help local bishops to train young local women, and to consider the place of her work as her homeland”. Today the asso­ciation has become AFIICA (International Cultural Association), and also welcomes men and married couples.

But Claire feels to be useful in those countries, she must have a solid training. While following the general and spiritual training provided within the ALM team, she enrolled in 1945 at the Catholic University of Leuven (Leuven , Belgium) to start her medical studies. Except for the first year when she present her exams on the second session, she will succeed every year in the first session (each time “with satis­faction”), so that in July 1952, she completed her seven years of studies and graduated as a Doctor in medicine, surgery and obstetrics.

Testimonial from Sister Marie-Pierre

Meanwhile, as China was closing itself to forei­gners, Claire was gradually planning to go to India. She completed her training in England where she got the “Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene” (July 1953, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine). In order to improve her English, she will spent several months in The Grail in Pinner (Middlesex), an asso­ciation that she will continue to keep in touch with. Later, while already in India, Claire still followed a short course on leprosy (July-August 1957) at the School of Tropical Medicine, Calcutta.

Testimonial from Catherine Widdicombe

In March 1954, Claire flew to India, accom­panied for this first departure by Yvonne Poncelet, President of ALM. Claire finds a job quickly enough as patho­logist at Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute, University of Delhi, with the help of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Health Minister of the Central Government, Gandhi’s follower and the first women to hold such important position. In October of the same year, she is joined by two ALM colleagues, Simonne Liégeois (Belgian) and Hélène Eenberg (French). They are both nurses and they found a job in a large hospital in Delhi. But labo­ratory work, moreover in a big city, is not really what Claire prefers … and all three of hem are looking for an oppor­tunity to work in the villages where the medical needs were more important…

Claire recalls at length on her vocation and her initial steps in India (2011)