Sister Dorothy Marie Ahern
“People brought little children to him, for him to lay his hands on them and say a prayer. The disciples turned them away, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children alone, and do not stop them coming to me, for to such as these the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ Then he laid his hands on them and went away.”
— A reading from the Gospel of Matthew (19:13-15)
This scripture passage seemed more than appropriate for Sister Dorothy Marie Ahern, who spent 66 years in schools, mostly as a teacher, with a few years as vice principal and principal. She taught every elementary grade, 1-8. She taught high school and she taught adult education. Except for three years in Oklahoma and seven years in Illinois, she was in California for 56 years, where she was assigned to every school we had in the Los Angeles area, eight in all, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Dorothy Marie Ahern, who died Friday, Nov. 14. She was 91 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 75 years.
Although we generally associate Sister Dorothy Marie with California, Genevieve Lucille was born in Gurley, Nebraska, to James and Sadie Penry Ahern, on May 6, 1923. Her three sisters and one brother preceded her in death.
Genevieve attended public and Catholic schools in Nebraska for seven years before the family moved to Van Nuys, where she went to St. Elisabeth for eighth-grade. Her Sister of Providence teacher suggested she attend the Juniorate, associated with Marywood High School in Anaheim, which she did, entering from the Juniorate into the novitiate there on Feb. 2, 1939, with fellow band member Sister Bernadette Mary Carroll.
She received the habit on Aug. 15, 1939, and made her first and final profession on that same date, in 1941, and 1947, respectively. She came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for the first time in 1946, prior to making her final vows here a year later.
She earned bachelor’s degrees in English and in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, and a master’s degree in education from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio.
Sister Bernadette Mary relates the story that a teacher made an error in her attendance book, then erased it and entered the correction. Dorothy Marie told the teacher she had to recopy the entire book. Harsh, perhaps, but Dorothy Marie knew her school law and knew that an erasure would nullify the authenticity of the report, should it ever be needed for legal purposes. To say that Sister Dorothy Marie was dedicated to her profession would be an understatement.
She was also very dedicated to her Sister of Providence community. Again, Bernadette Mary, my source, shared that one summer Dorothy Marie told her, “I don’t think it’s right for me to take the whole summer off.” She asked the pastor if she could sell encyclopedias to the parents and earn some money for the community. He agreed and so she did, toting the sets from place to place in a small carrying bag.
Her dedication to the Congregation was also seen when Bernadette Mary finally ascertained from Dorothy Marie why she resisted coming to the Woods for retirement. She replied, “I have a pension because I taught for several years in the public schools in California and if I go to the Woods, the community will not get my pension.” Her general officer at the time suggested they go together to the school corporation, where she learned that the pension followed her, wherever she went. Shortly thereafter, in 2008, Dorothy Marie came to the Woods.
One of the first things she did when coming here was to get her Indiana driver’s license. Connie Gualano, a CBO staff member at the time and in charge of cars, related that she coached Dorothy Marie to take her driving test. They were reviewing the part of the booklet that has the shapes of the various traffic signs. Dorothy Marie exclaimed, “You people in Indiana are really strange. In California, these signs have words on them!”
Sister Dorothy Marie was a great cook and a beautiful seamstress. She made all her own clothes, as well as helping others or sewing for the convent needs. When she came to the Woods, she put her sewing skills to use for the sisters in health care, especially.
As Sister Dorothy Marie’s health deteriorated and her memory loss increased, she became a favorite of the PHC staff. One nurse remembered Dorothy Marie’s early days on the west wing when she was still ambulatory.
“She would always want to help the other sisters, even to pouring coffee and passing the trays. WE had a hard time convincing her that the staff did that,” the nurse said.
Another said, “She was my darling; she just made everybody happy with her joyful spirit.”
And another said, “She found delight in every little thing – a cup of coffee, a cookie – would get an animated response and always, no matter the giver, a repeated, ‘Thank you, sister. Thank you, sister.'”
And another said, “If she thought it, she said it. She could be blunt in her comments, but no one ever took offense. Once she said to an office staff member wearing a short skirt, ‘Honey, did you run out of material for that skirt?'”
Another nurse offered, “She never lost her love of sewing and would delight to feel the fabric of the clothing that someone was wearing and then ask, ‘Who sewed that for you?’ I really delighted in her wonderful, innocent questions.”
Since the day of her death on Friday, Nov. 14, Dorothy Marie has had no more questions. Now, she has only answers and to her as to the little children, “The kingdom of God belongs.”
Sister Dorothy’s funeral services will take place Wednesday, Nov. 19, with a wake from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., and Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 20, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Dorothy Marie in the comments section below.
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