A Sister's Love
All proceeds got to a special fund administered by the sisters to support their favorite local ministries of mercy.
Few women—if any—are more loved and respected in the Metro-Jackson area and beyond than Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth and her six fellow Dominican Sisters who live in Jackson and have so faithfully loved and cared for thousands over decades.
Says Mississippi First Lady Deborah Bryant, who worked at St. Dominic’s with the Sisters for 39 years until her husband, Phil, was elected governor: “Calcutta has Mother Teresa’s Little Sisters of the Poor. Mississippi has its Dominican Sisters of St. Dominic’s who care for the sick of spirit and body.”
But early times were hard for these ground-breakers.
When the Sisters’ predecessors arrived in 1946 to found St. Dominic’s (it was then a small venture called the Jackson Infirmary), the Northern Catholic women were resisted strongly by Mississippi’s ubiquitous, male-dominated Baptist culture. The Sisters’ seemed strange, and the KKK burned a flag in front of their hospital after they became the first hospital in Jackson to desegregate patient hallways, restrooms, and dining areas.
Even the state legislature politically impeded the Sisters’ efforts to build what is now a landmark hospital on Lakeland Drive. Today, however, the Sisters’ love and winsome spirit has won over virtually everyone. Their sincere faith still permeates St. Dominic Health Services.
People of all backgrounds called them beloved. Says Bryant:
In 1946, the Sisters of the Springfield (Illinois) Dominican Order started the journey from a worn-down, four-story Jackson, Mississippi, infirmary to the present day St. Dominic Hospital. They did so against all odds amid harsh post-Depression days when segregation was alive and well and Catholicism was misunderstood and unwelcome nationally and certainly in Mississippi. Women in the workplace were unfathomable. The habit-clad Sisters were feminists before feminism was cool.
… Heeding God’s call to love and heal, the forbearers of our current veteran St. Dominic’s Sisters came to the Magnolia State, which they considered a mission field. Called “pioneer Sisters,” all were from Illinois farm country.
Today seven Sisters—several who lived among the original pioneer Sisters— work at the now-sprawling St. Dominic Health Services, which includes six subsidiaries and more than 4,000 employees. From a small building, they have built one of the largest private healthcare organizations in Mississippi. Before coming to Jackson, none had traveled south of Illinois. These Sisters are faith-filled, fun-loving folk; they are life-changers and life-menders. I know this because I have known them for decades.
At the helm of the current Sisters is Sister Dorothea—a multitasking lover of God, men, and women—and Sister Trinita, Dorothea’s dearest friend who arrived in Jackson from Springfield, Illinois in the 1950s and has never left!
A Sister’s Love: The Story of the Dominican Sisters at St. Dominic’s is more than a coffee-table book, although it’s full of historic photos. It’s a thorough history. More than 300 pages tell the Sisters’ stories, inspiring and challenging.
Asks Bryant: “Do you want to believe that selflessness is possible today? Do you want to meet ladies who are not only Mississippi heroes but also national ones? Do you want to be inspired to offer hope to others?” She says A Sister’s Love is the right prescription.
The book was the brainstorm of local ENT Dr. Jim House, who insists that Sister Dorothea and her fellow Sisters have made a great positive difference in his life. Indeed, the book is strewn with the inspiring journal writings of Sister Dorothea, dating back to the early 1960s! Also included are writings from the earliest “Pioneer Sisters” that were in a time capsule set for fifty years in the cornerstone of the original 6-story facility on Lakeland Drive.
The book starts with each Sister’s childhood, chronicling their youth, entry into the Springfield (IL) Dominican Convent, and matriculation over time to St. Dominic’s. Front and center is the story of a young girl called Dottie who had crushes on boys, loved to dance, adored fashion, and seemed to have the world on a string; then she was called to be a Sister, and Jackson has benefitted from Sister Dorothea’s faithfulness!
“We conferred with our leadership in Springfield, and we prayed a great deal,” says Sister Dorothea about the Sisters’ decision to submit to the book. “We so value our leaders at St. Dominic’s as well. We entered this journey with some trepidation and much prayer, as our lives are not about drawing attention to ourselves, but pointing toward our Savior. We all are deeply gratified and humbled by the final outcome. Joe Maxwell did a masterful job of weaving the story together. We hope it blesses others.”
The 420-page book will go on sale Saturday at Lemuria Bookstore. A VIP signing is set for 4-5 p.m. on Saturday, after which an hour signing is open to the general public. All proceeds from the book’s sales will go to a special fund to be managed by the Sisters to give aid to area causes.
CONTACT: Joe Maxwell at 601-594-0018