Goodbye Dorothy - Advocate, Writer, Sister, Friend

Sister Jeanne Keaveny and Sister Dorothy Vidulich in lively
conversation at my table at a community assembly day
How does one describe Sister Dorothy Vidulich?  Words truly can't even begin to capture her energetic spirit, love of God and passion for justice.  I first met her in 2006 in her later years of retirement.  Our Novitiate house was located next door to our retirement community in New Jersey, and I spent many an afternoon in lively discussion and debate with Dorothy about the state of the world and the future of religious life and the church.  Dorothy and her "partner in crime," Sister Jeanne Keaveny, were incredible mentors to me and my novitiate classmates in our early months of formation, true kindred spirits and role models who journeyed with us through challenges that in retrospect seem small but at the time almost insurmountable.

When I first met Dorothy, I felt like I was meeting a rock star.  Because you see, even though I had never met her in person she had already played a key role in my own discernment through her book, Peace Pays a Price: A Study of Margaret Anna Cusack, the Nun of Kenmare.  I found her book during my late night explorations of the community library during my first vocation retreat at our west coast regional center and read the entire thing in one sitting.  It tells the story of our founder, Margaret Anna Cusack and the community she founded. What a beautiful story, and how beautifully told.  Here were women who not only spoke the pretty prose of peace through justice, they did something about it!

That description certainly fits Dorothy.  She started out her 60 years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace in the ministry of education for 12 years.  Soon however, the ground of religious life shifted with the call of the Second Vatican Council.  She worked with Sister Jeanne, Provincial in the East at that time, to implement the changes of renewal.  "This assignment of six years was exciting," she wrote on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee which she celebrated earlier this year, "but painful as many new and enriching changes took place."

In 1974 she founded a Center for Peace and Justice located on the grounds of our eastern regional center.  It was located in fact in an old coach house that would have been part of the property when it was bought by Margaret Anna Cusack.  She wrote in Peace Pays a Price that this gave a "rootedness to the goals of the Center." Through the Center, Dorothy and other CSJPS "worked for structural change in many of the social problems confronting the church and society of those days."  Later, the Center moved to the new Congregational offices in Washington, D.C. which enabled Dorothy to collaborate more with other women religious.  She became a coordinator with NETWORK, the Catholic Social Justice Lobby founded by Catholic Sisters which has been in the news so much these days with the "Nuns on the Bus."  Dorothy worked there for five years bringing the social teaching of the church to the heart of social justice issues on the national stage.

She drew upon this experience for the next ten years, while she worked for the National Catholic Reporter as a Washington correspondent.  Looking back on her years at NCR on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, she wrote: "My research, interviews and work with Arthur Jones, editor, filled my days with excitement, joy and challenge."  Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can still read some of her articles online.  For example, here is a link to a story she wrote about women theologians from 2000. Here's another one from 1997 about efforts of religious men to work against violence. And here is a 1998 column about the unsung role of women in the Irish peace process.

Reflecting on her life as a CSJP, Dorothy wrote that the highlight was being invited by the Congregation Council to research the life of Margaret Anna Cusack.  This research of course became the book I mentioned earlier, Peace Pays a Price.

When I was a novice one of my highlights--and life savers--was getting a chance to talk with Dorothy.  I remember one particular conversation when she said something about how impressed she was with the women in the novitiate.  She said that she wondered how the community ever managed to get women like us, or something to that effect.  I looked her in the eye and said, "Well, your book for one thing! It was a major inspiration for all of us."  How often do we get to share our gratitude with the people who inspire us, especially when that inspiration helps lead to one of our biggest and best life choices?  It was an unforgettable moment.  I'm also happy to say that I managed to get her to autograph a copy of her book for me.  She was so humble I was afraid she'd say no!

Dorothy passed away today in New Jersey.  The past few years have carried more than a few health challenges for her, so in many ways it is a blessing. She will be greatly missed though, most deeply by her friend and colleague of so many years, Jeanne.  But she will be missed by all of us.  In every community there are a handful of members who make a deep and lasting impact.  I think it is safe to say that Dorothy was one of our giants in that respect. I for one am comforted to know that she will be praying and advocating in heaven, for the CSJP community, for all those living on the margins, for conversion of the hearts of the powerful, and perhaps most strongly for our Church that we may embody and give life to Christ's promise of peace and justice for all.

I'd like to end this post with the final words of the epilogue to Peace Pays a Price.  Where it says "Margaret Anna Cusack," I think you can also read "Dorothy Vidulich."

Margaret Anna Cusack's life story intensifies the awareness that to keep alive the charism of the Congregation, the task of renewal is a constant concern.  The cost of such commitment may vary with individuals, but as the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace so consistently indicates:
Peace pays a price.
There will continue to be women and men who choose to make a dedication of time--or a lifetime--to purse the goals of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

Amen. Pray for us Dorothy.  We need it!

1 comment:

Jule said...

My fondest memory of Dorothy is one in which as her nurse, I needed to change a dressing on her arm. She came into the treatment

room fussing and mumbling. When I asked her what was perturbing her so much she responded that it was the Gospel of today's Mass which stated that "women should obedient and subservient to their husbands". "So stupid", she said. I could never tolerate that one! Makes me so angry! That was Dorothy, the quintessential women' advocate! Love her and will moss her greatly! Jule Scanlon, CSJP-A