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Sister Madeline Dorsey

Maryknoll Sister Madeline Dorsey, known affectionately as Sister Maddie, likes to refer to herself as “God’s bouncing ball.” Over the course of her 78 years as a Maryknoll Sister she has “bounced” to six different countries. Each time, she has left people and communities transformed in magnificent ways.

Sister Madeline Dorsey in SelmaBorn in Brooklyn in 1918, Sister Maddie entered Maryknoll in 1936. After training as a nurse, she was sent to set up a jungle hospital in Bolivia in 1945. It was uncharted territory for her, but she met the challenges head on.  From there she was sent to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) to help staff a government hospital. She was called back to the United States in 1955 to help establish the first integrated hospital in the country in Kansas City, Mo. Ten years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Sister Maddie and her Sister companions brought together multiracial doctors and nurses to serve an integrated patient population.

Sister Maddie in El SalvadorIn 1966 she was sent to Peru as an obstetric nurse working with premature infants.  After five years she returned to Maryknoll, NY, to work in the community’s nursing home. In 1976 she was sent to one of the poorest regions of El Salvador, an assignment that would change her forever.  The country was in the turmoil of civil war at the time and the Sisters spent a lot of time accompanying people in their grief. She suffered her own grief when in 1980 she was called to identify the battered bodies of her companions, the four Churchwomen brutally murdered and buried in a shallow grave. They were Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missioner Jean Donovan.

After leaving El Salvador in 1981, Sister Maddie did pastoral work in Guatemala and Mexico where many Salvadoran exiles needed care, friendship and new hope. She returned to Maryknoll, NY, in 1992.

Sister Maddie todayToday, having just turned 96, Sister Maddie has slowed down but still has plenty of bounce left. She is focusing her energy on prayer now, praying especially for the people of her beloved El Salvador. She is held in the highest esteem by the extended family of the murdered missioners and has become a grandmother figure to them. She says “my bedroom is my chapel, in my favorite chair, in prayer.” A good, workable window in her room is key for her in all seasons and along with 25 other Sisters in assisted living care at Maryknoll, she is grateful to SOAR! for the new windows installed in their rooms.

Posted: October 2014

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