PFS volunteer brings love for justice, education to her work
Students and volunteer tutors who come to Providence Family Services in Chicago may recognize Sister Dorothy Gartland as the no-nonsense supervisor of the afterschool homework program. They are directly impacted by her dedication to increasing education levels of local youth. What they may not recognize is the wealth of history and advocacy she represents.
The 81-year-old Sister Dorothy brings a thirst for justice to her education ministry among the mostly lower income Spanish-speaking population of the West Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Providence Family Services, established in 1993, provides affordable bilingual counseling services, English as a Second Language classes, computer classes, and citizenship classes in addition to the afterschool homework tutoring program.
“I think this is a viable part of what we are doing here in this area. It is important to help as many people as possible to achieve the life that God intended for them. One way is to help our kids achieve in school. I view it as a work of justice, and besides that fact, I like it,” she said of the full-time volunteer position she has held for more than a decade.
Sister Dorothy brings to her ministry at PFS a background as a teacher, principal and religious superior. She was a co-founder of the 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago at which she worked for twelve years dealing with issues from poverty and the nuclear arms race, to equal rights for women and apartheid in Africa to US support of wars in Central America.
When asked about the time she was arrested for peaceful protesting, she responds, “Which time? I’ve been arrested lots of times.”
Sister Dorothy is a woman willing to put her own comfort and security on the line to bring goodness, equality and fairness to others. She’s still doing it day in and day out, despite multiple hip replacements and an age far past most peoples’ retirement. She continues to give of herself to educate young people as a foothold out of poverty.
She contributes part of her awareness and drive to having lived in other-cultural, minority neighborhoods since 1969, and to being part of a vibrant Congregation of women religious at a wonderful time, right after the Second Vatican Council.
In her current ministry with PFS, Sister Dorothy recruits volunteer tutors from area colleges, including Dominican University and DePaul University, and local high schools. She organizes and schedules the tutors, including tutoring herself as needed, and does all the follow-up paperwork for college volunteers. Providence Family Services (PFS) is a not-for-profit sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., and a program of Guerin Outreach Ministries.
Frances Ginther has had a long acquaintance with Sister Dorothy (formerly known as Sister Margaret Eugene Gartland). She’s worked as a teacher under Sister Dorothy as principal years ago and more recently both women serve on the Providence Family Services’ board of directors and are involved with Guerin Outreach Ministries. Frances has seen Sister Dorothy in action over a span of many years.
“She was a great principal and a wonderful superior. She was very responsible in her duties, and the parishioners and students loved her. But she was tough. She was not a pushover. She is now 81 years old, and she is still not a push over.”
Frances observed Sister Dorothy in action at PFS just a few weeks ago.
“Sister Dorothy didn’t have enough tutors that day, and she was tutoring three young boys herself. I can tell you that she wants these students to succeed, and she demands that they work. This is not play time. It is time to sit down and pay attention to your homework and to do activities that have been organized for your age group. She is tough, and she doesn’t let them fool around. When she tutors three or four kids at a time, she pays attention to all of them,” Frances said.
PFS founder and director Sister Patty Fillenwarth agrees. She has lived in the same convent with Sister Dorothy since 1976 and has also worked with her at PFS for the past 15 years.
“Sister Dorothy is extremely adaptable. Some days she has two tutors, and some days she has 15. She adapts well and works very hard, and she does everything so well.
“She puts into practice our mission as Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods: Love mercy and Justice. And I think she does all three in her ministry, both with the students and tutors and with the parents,” Sister Patty said.
Sister Dorothy had talked about retiring this year, but that was before she got her new hip, Sister Patty said. Now Sister Dorothy she’ll keep doing it as long as she can.
“She’s just a good person and a hard worker and a wonderful Sister of Providence, and I consider myself fortunate to have her here,” Sister Patty said.
The 53 students currently enrolled in the after-school tutoring program are also fortunate.
“The after-school program is a great help to families struggling with language or economically. I think it’s a very important work. I think that this is what we should be doing,” Sister Dorothy said.
And that dedication and drive shows through in the work she does at Providence Family Services day in and day out.
For more information on programs and opportunities available at Providence Family Services, call 773-235-8264 or visit www.GuerinOutreachMinistries.org.