When my maternal grandmother came from Slovakia, she wanted to live near a church that had a school with sisters for her children. She settled in Donora, Pennsylvania where the Vincentian Sisters of Charity were missioned at Saint Dominic parish. I was blessed to be born on February 18, 1944 to Stephen and Margaret Simonik Dolak. My parents were a faith filled couple who respected the sisters. I was the middle child of three daughters, my older sister Margie, now deceased and younger sister Cindy with whom I share a very close bond. As far back as I can remember my parents were very generous to the sisters. My mother shared her sewing, cooking and baking skills and my father shared the fruits of his garden with the sisters. Both parents logged many miles driving the sisters to various places.

Growing up I lived in a Slavic ghetto and all the children in the area would gather at the public playground and play various games. In the evening we would play hide-in-seek in the field next to our house. We walked to the library to get books to read. In the summer we flew kites, went swimming at Laten Dam and rode our bikes. Every Sunday my mother gave each of us a quarter to go to the movies which cost twenty cents. We bought an ice cream cone on the walk home with the nickel that was left.

My family was always involved in church activities. We participated in forty hours, May processions and benediction services. We always attended the Easter Vigil service and my mother would take pies and cakes to the sisters after the service.

I was fortunate to attend Saint Dominic Grade School. When I was in the eighth grade I was the tallest girl, so I got to lead the Living Rosary that we did in the cemetery. I went to Monongahela Valley Catholic High School where religious from five different communities were represented. In my senior year I was president of the sodality. I was the May Queen and my little cousins were my court and carried the crown.

Sister Dorothy as May Queen during her senior year of high school.

I would stay after school and help Sister Anne Kremenik in the library. I liked all the sisters. Sister Anna Marie Pavlik taught me Religion in high school. She wrote inspiring letters to me. After school my mom would pick me up and would also take the sisters home.

During high school I attended retreats at the different religious mother- houses. The pull of the Vincentians was very strong. Father Lutz, my guidance counselor, advised me to go with my own kind because it would be easier. I had wanted to go to Vincentian Academy for my senior year of high school, but my parents wanted me to stay at home and finish high school. They would then support me in whatever I wanted to do.

Upon graduation from high school I entered the Vincentian community on September 8, 1961. I dreamed of becoming a teacher like the ones who had taught me. I was received on August 15, 1962 and received the religious name Sister Mary Luke. In a few years I was allowed to take my birth name of Dorothy.

Sister Dorothy (then Sister Mary Luke) on her reception day.

My novitiate years were not life giving for me. I felt there was too much work. I did, however, develop some lasting friendships with the girls. It was a period of turmoil because so many were leaving the convent. I felt that it was by the grace of God that I endured my novitiate years and remained in the convent. When I completed the novitiate I felt I had a very low self-esteem.

My dream was fulfilled when I began teaching in 1964. I later received a Bachelor of Science in Education from LaRoche College and a Master of Arts in teaching with an administration certification from Duquesne University.

For fourteen years I taught in many schools throughout the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Greensburg. I taught from grades four through eighth from 1964-1976. I then taught at Vincentian high school for a year and then went to Mobile, Alabama where I began my career as a principal for a year. I returned to Pennsylvania and was principals throughout the Pittsburgh area until 1992. Many years while I was principal I also was the coordinator of the sisters in the various convents.

My years in educational ministry were all very good. They helped me to develop a positive self-esteem and to further my professional development.

When my parents were both battling cancer at the same time my community gave me a leave of absence to care for them. But my mother said I needed to work, so I found a job at a small school near my parents’ home. My father died in October of 1989 and my mother passed away in November of 1990. This was a very difficult time for me.

Following the death of my parents my life took a new direction. I attended classes at Scranton University and became a licensed nursing home administrator. I served the community for eleven years as administrator of Regency Hall. I developed a good rapport with the staff. I initiated activities that created a spirit of comradery among the staff.

After my time as administrator I worked at Saint Vincent de Paul Society for a short while until health issues forced me to leave. I later became principal at Saint Sebastian School in Pittsburgh for three years. I also became involved with the Comfort Keepers who worked with the frail elderly.

In 2008 I became motherhouse coordinator at Saint Louise. After the merger the job was reassigned and I was let go.

In August of 2009 I accepted the principal position at Christ the Divine Teacher Catholic Academy in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania. I had five wonderful years here and it was a great way to bring my educational ministry to an end.

Brody Altenbaugh, one of Sister Dorothy’s students at Christ the Divine Teacher Catholic Academy, wishes her a happy retirement. (Photo by Jan Pakler for The Herald)

I am retired from full time ministry but life is full of volunteer jobs. I am a tutor for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. I work as a part-time cemetery associate for the diocese of Pittsburgh where I have funeral services at the cemetery when a priest is not available. I also am a volunteer driver for our sisters.

In my spare time I enjoy cooking, reading, crocheting and just being with people. In the past I have been fortunate to have traveled and experienced various cultures. I made a pilgrimage to the Coptic monasteries in deserts of Egypt and the Holy Land. I saw the Passion Play at Oberammergau in Germany and visited places in Rome, Italy and Vatican City. I have traveled to Alaska and the Canadian Rockies. A unique place I went was Slovakia the home of my grandparents.

I consider it a blessing to have had so many experiences in my life. I have met many people and they have made me grow and appreciate life. My greatest blessing has been my family who started me on my faith journey and always loved and supported me no matter what! Over the years I have lived and worked with many wonderful Vincentian Sisters and developed lasting friendships.

In the future I hope to be independent as long as possible and able to adjust to changes whenever it becomes necessary. I pray that my life will always be pleasing to my God in whatever path He has me follow.

By Sharon Cecil, SCNA October 24, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

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