Wake Reflection for Sister Mary Dolorita Robinson, OSU
Listen to these words from Sister Dolorita Robinson’s 2009-2010 Individual Annals Description of Ministry, from just less than one year ago: “I am getting anxious to go on to heaven.”
Well, just as the day turned toward afternoon on Wednesday, March 23, 2011, Sister Dolorita Robinson finished her earthly tasks and stepped, in great peace, into the embrace of her heavenly father.
Born on a wintry Saturday, January 13, 1923, in “Little Saint Joseph” in rural Marion County, Kentucky, Mary Dolores Robinson, the eighth child of William Spalding Robinson and Lallie Marie Thomas, soon became known as Dola. Father Felix Pitt baptized this great-great-niece of the famous Bishop Martin John Spalding, just three days later at Saint Joseph Church in Raywick, Kentucky.
In little more than one year, Dola’s younger brother was born; and just after Dola’s second birthday, the Robinson family lost their mother, Lallie. Spalding Robinson moved his family of three boys and four girls (two boys had died in early childhood) to Saint Mary, Kentucky, where his cousin, Stella Josephine Spalding, began to help raise the family. By 1929, Spalding secured a dispensation to wed his cousin Stella, and this supportive family was finally complete. Sister Dolorita referenced a “spiritual life nourished by [a] very traditional Catholic mother, father, and step mother [who] taught by word and example the value of faith and trust in God. . . .”
Dola cherished her family, her brothers and sisters: William Thomas, James Newton, Lucy Marie, Susan Ann, Jane Florine, and Joseph “Buck;” and her forty (40) nieces and nephews, and more than 85 great-nieces and –nephews. To her sister Florine, we Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph offer our condolences and prayers.
When Dola was ten, on a horrific June summer night in 1933, the Robinson family home and two barns burned to the ground. The family escaped the burning home in the middle of the night, but Dola’s father suffered serious burns as he tried to save the family’s possessions. Although his Stella nursed him back to health and the family found shelter, the fire would have a lasting impact on the Robinsons.
Yet, Dola’s childhood was filled with gifts of happy memories; Sister Dolorita recounted two particularly striking images:
Winter evenings with the whole family held together by the wood-burning stove in the living room. Card games and “Amos and Andy” and “Lum and Abner” radio stories. Special occasions with cracked walnuts, pop corn, or apples from the cellar. Mama and Daddy always took part in the fun and sometime had to referee.
– and –
The family together on the front porch singing, while waiting for the upstairs bedrooms to cool off. Christmas: . . . On Christmas morning Daddy went down and lighted the fire and came back upstairs to get us up. “I don’t think there’s anything down there,” he called, “but we’ll go see.” What joy when the door came open and we saw the tree. . . .
Of course, Dola began her schooling and strengthened her spiritual journey encountering the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph at the Saint Charles parish school in 1929. In May 1935, the Right Reverend John Floersch came to Saint Charles Church in Saint Mary, Kentucky, to administer the sacrament of Confirmation; Mary Dolores Robinson was in that class.
By 1938, Dola had moved on to Saint Charles High School and more Ursuline teachers, including Sisters Gonzaga, Mary John, and Jean Mark. It was at this time that Dola felt the call to religious life; but it was not a simple decision for her, and through a letter from Sister Gonzaga to Mother Teresita, we glimpse a touching and somewhat romantic interlude:
Mother, I am writing for one of our pupils, Dola Robinson. She wishes to enter the Novitiate in September, but does not wish anyone to know of her plans. . . . Dola is eighteen and a Junior. She has been going with a young man regularly and thought much of him but never promised to marry him. He joined the army and Dola said she feared if she did not enter now, she [would] have the temptation to marry him if he returns. She feels convinced that she wants to become a religious [February].
We’ll never know if her young man returned from war, but we do know that Mary Dolores Robinson sent her application in April and, in September, boarded the train that would take her to Owensboro and Maple Mount, Kentucky, where she began her Postulancy on Sunday, September 7, 1941. She also spent that year as a student in Mount Saint Joseph Academy.
On Friday, August 14, 1942, Mary Dolores Robinson became Sister Mary Dolorita, and began her Novitiate with her ten other classmates: Sisters Bertha Marie, Jean Richard, Maura, Marie Julie, Rose Marie, Mary Philip, Jane Miriam, Mary Francella, Rosaria, and Mary Camilla. To Sister Dolorita’s four classmates who remain with us today, we offer our condolences and our prayers.
Sister Dolorita (number 501) was located midway between Sisters Jean Richard and Marie Julie (498 and 500) and Sisters Rose Marie and Jane Miriam (502 and 504), and even though she was known as “Doli,” she kept the class “on track.” Sister Dolorita claimed that when she thought of her Novitiate, she thought “dairy.” She remembered showing up at the dairy one day “wearing my third habit I had worked on for months. I got caught in the spout of the churn. Sr. Joseph Volk had to rescue me by turning off the electricity! I cried most of the day, as much over my ‘torn habit’ as from tension.”
On Tuesday, August 15, 1944, Sister Dolorita made temporary vows and within a month began teaching at Saint Paul School in Leitchfield. She spent eight years there, “learning ‘how to.’ They were my most care-free years of teaching.” She also made her final vows in 1947 while at Leitchfield. Sister Dolorita would spend 39 years teaching in Catholic schools in Kentucky; and 28 of those were as a teaching principal. Those schools included Saint Paul, Leitchfield; Saint Michael, Fairfield; Saint Joseph High School, Central City; Saint Brigid, Vine Grove; Mary Carrico, Knottsville; Saint Leonard, Louisville; back to Saint Paul; and Saint Augustine, Lebanon.
While teaching others, Sister Dolorita continued her own education, earning a BA from Brescia College in 1965, and an MA from Spalding in 1971. She continued courses, earning her principal certificate and a commission for supervising student teachers through coursework at Murray State and Western Kentucky Universities. She was not content to stop learning, earning certificates such as Pastoral Bereavement Counseling in 1989, and attending workshops, such as Holistic Approach to Aging (at Catholic University in Washington in 1984). As late as 2002, approaching her 80th year, Sister Dolorita was still taking computer classes.
In addition to her ministry in the Kentucky Catholic schools, Sister Dolorita spent a year in the 1970s at Mount Saint Joseph as local superior, and returned to the Mount in 1984 to work in the craft room; in 1986 she became Director of Activities for the Retired Sisters. While in that position, Sister Dolorita demonstrated yet another talent – rain dancer. Let her tell that story: In 1988 we took a Senior Citizen trip to Amish Country in Indiana. It was hot and dry. On the way home, the bus driver and group leader suggested we [get out of the bus and] do a Rain Dance – Indian fashion. . . . We did, and wouldn’t you know, it rained the next day.
From 1990 to 1998, Sister Dolorita served in outreach ministry at Saint John the Evangelist in Sunfish, Kentucky. When she returned to the Mount for her last time in 1998, she began a seven-year ministry as Archives Assistant – and found yet more opportunities for education with the Kentucky Council of Archives Conferences in Morehead, Kentucky.
In her almost-retirement and true-retirement years, Sister Dolorita had chances to reflect and record some of her thoughts. She counted the greatest “blessings of a life time [to be] my birth into a good home of strong faith; a rural upbringing . . .; average good health; [and] an education by Mount Saint Joseph Ursulines.” She shared that “during the few short years of apostolic ministry remaining to me, I hope to direct my efforts toward bringing some joy to others with the knowledge that they are loved by God.” We know that when Sister Dolorita moved to the Villa in 2005, she experienced that love; and we extend thanks to the Villa staff for the love you shared with her, and we offer also our condolences and prayers.
Sister Dolorita’s journey has been one with both light and darkness, but the light has brought her to this time with peace. She wrote: “During my religious life. . . I realized more and more what it means to be a child of a loving God. I now think of God as Father, Jesus as brother and Savior, and the Holy Spirit as my constant indwelling companion.” And less than a year ago, in her 2009-2010 Annals, she shared three thoughts that might be a miniature valedictory.
As she dictated those Annals, Sister Dolorita noted first:
- The nurses are good to me . . .
- Her first thought was to thank those who served; then
- I play bingo (if somebody helps me). . . but I never win. . .
- She might not win, but she kept playing; never give up; and
- I am getting anxious to go on to heaven.
- Her eyes were on the prize.
So, Sister Dolorita, we have bid you “good-bye” here at Mount Saint Joseph, and we are sure that where you are, there are many who are now saying, “Welcome home, cherished daughter.
Sister Sharon Sullivan
Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph