Ernestine Harris, former SCCCW president and papal honor recipient, dies at 76

SUMTER—Ernestine Marie Marshall Harris died July 12 at Tuomey Regional Medical Center. She was 76.

A memorial service was held July 17 at St. Jude Church.

Born on Dec. 29, 1935, she was the daughter of the late Sylvester and Marie Bass Marshall from Vicksburg, Miss., and was raised by the late Lottie “Nannie” Joseph.

Harris was an active member of the Catholic community and received the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (For the Church and Pontiff) medal in 1999. She was nominated by Bishop David B. Thompson for the award, which is one of the highest honors a layperson can receive.

She was quoted in a newspaper article as saying her motto is: “Here I am Lord, send me to do your will.”

Harris converted to Catholicism in 1959, and one of her goals was to involve women and minorities in leadership positions in the church. At the time, she said women were capable and wanted to do more than wash and iron altar clothes.

A longtime member of St. Jude Church, now the Catholic Community, she served as Eucharistic minister and lector.

She was the second black president of the South Carolina Conference of Catholic Women, plus a member of Catholic Women’s Sodality, Ladies of St. Peter Claver, the church women’s guild and gospel choir.

One of Harris’ lasting legacies was to help create the office of black Catholic ministry for the Diocese of Charleston.

She worked in Sumter School District 17, spent 15 years as an assistant teacher at the former St. Jude School, tutored at the St. Jude enrichment center, and taught at St. Anne School until her death.

Harris is the widow of Clifford J. Harris. She is survived by her children, Terrence Harris of Columbia, Andrea Hithe, James Pack, and Danita Russell, all of Sumter; eight grandchildren, a half-sister, a brother, and nieces and nephews.