Sister Marie Pierre Buttell
Community Leader & Co-Founder of The International Center
A native of Germany, Sister Marie Pierre Buttell answered Richard Lugar’s call to form an international center in Indianapolis and remained a dedicated volunteer for several decades.
In 1971, the NATO Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society hosted the first International Conference on Cities in Indianapolis. At the conclusion of the event, Mayor Richard Lugar knew it was essential for the city to continue expanding its global influence, so he turned to the local community for ideas and support. One of the first leaders to step to the forefront was Sister Marie Pierre Buttell.
Born in 1907, Sister Marie and her family moved to Illinois from Alsace-Lorraine—a historic French region on the German border. As a child, she attended grade school in Illinois before moving to Oldenburg, Indiana, to finish high school and her college education. She then spent a year in Europe with her parents before formally entering the Catholic Church and becoming Sister Marie Pierre in 1933.
Sister Marie taught classes at Marian College for 53 years, while serving as the Dean of Studies, the Foreign Student Advisor, and Chairperson of both the English and German departments.
During that time, she also completed her doctoral program at Catholic University and participated in various programs and educational institutes across the country. Sister Marie was also awarded a grant to study at the Goethe Institute in Germany and spent 11 summers traveling Europe—from England to Liechtenstein.
In 1972, Sister Marie answered Mayor Lugar’s call and became part of the globally-minded group that founded The International Center. Under their leadership, The Center was established to heighten awareness of international issues and serve as a resource for Hoosiers to gather and share information about diverse cultures.
“Except for culture, we’re not that different from each other,” said Sister Marie. “Every culture, every group of people has something to offer every other group. In our diversity, we have a richness you can’t pick up elsewhere.”
A dedicated volunteer, Sister Marie remained involved with The International Center for decades. She helped organize its speaker program, taught language classes, worked in the library, and even served on the board.
Sister Marie was eventually awarded the Cross of Merit in 1975 by the Federal Republic of Germany for her work with students at Marian College. And in 1990, she was honored by the very organization she helped establish, earning the International Citizen of the Year Award. Throughout the years, Sister Marie continued to volunteer her time and energy until she formally retired in 1996 at the age of 89.
After Sister Marie’s death in 2004, her friend and fellow International Center Board Member K.P. Singh said, “With a boundless mind should one cherish all life, emitting friendliness above, beyond, all around without limit. That’s Sister Marie. She is the model international citizen. We who have served with her, we know she represents the best of the human spirit.”