Sister Dorothy Hucksoll (formerly Sister Francis Ellen)
“Then the ruler will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go t visit you?’ The ruler will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
A reading from Matthew 25: 34-40
As this parable was read, I imagine all who knew Sister Dorothy Hucksoll well were thinking after each statement, “Yes, that was the Dorothy I knew,” said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Dorothy Hucksoll, formerly Sister Francis Ellen, who died Monday, May 25. She was 89 years and had been a Sister of Providence for 71 years.
Dorothy May Hucksoll was born in Chicago to Ernest and Ella Huff Hucksoll, on Sept. 16, 1925. Her sister, Joan, is unable to be with us today; her brother, Ernest Jr., preceded her in death.
She attended St. Angela School and Austin High School, entering the Sisters of Providence on July 22, 1944, a year after graduation from high school. She received the religious name of Sister Francis Ellen as a postulant and was received into the novitiate on Jan. 23, 1945. She also professed her first and perpetual vows on Jan. 23, in 1947, and 1952, respectively.
Dorothy earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s in reading from Indiana University, as well as additional study which earned her the title of Reading Specialist.
For nearly 40 years, Dorothy served in education. Twenty-three of those years as a classroom teacher, grades two through eight, as a principal for one year, and as a reading specialist for 15 years. Her ministry assignments during those years were mostly in Indiana and Illinois, with a brief time spent in North Carolina. She gave her students “food and drink” that lasts – knowledge, faith and character development, and the most basic of skills – reading.
Sister Dorothy came back to Saint Mary’s in 1988 and spent the next 17 years ministering to the sick in various capacities, as a nursing assistant, driver and accompanying residents to the doctor. For seven of those years she was a community companion to our Sister Wendy Workman, now deceased, who had suffered a major brain injury in a bicycle accident as a young sister. Sister Clelia, Dorothy’s good friend, formed community with her and together they enjoyed excursions and outings, especially nature walks. She remembers Dorothy as always the same and always interested in what was happening in her life after she left St. Mary’s for ministry elsewhere. Clelia found her always focused and having a nice sense of humor.
Dorothy dearly loved Sister Wendy and took it upon herself to write “Sister Wendy’s Story,” which she called “a labor of love.” Why she wrote it is worth noting: “So Wendy would be able to retrieve memories of her life forgotten in the accident and so Wendy would know how much others loved her.”
She also wrote it because she wanted her professional caregivers “to know Wendy the person – her loving relationships, her serious personality along with her keen wit,” all so that Wendy’s “quality of life would be improved.”
In writing Wendy’s story, she revealed her own character. In the epilogue, she wrote, “I prayed that each Sister of Providence would receive Sister Wendy as a great blessing bestowed on us in God’s way of Providence.”
Following her accompaniment of Sister Wendy, Dorothy spent six year very active in local peace and justice efforts, which had been an interest of hers all her life, having learned it from her father. She then served on the residential services staff until 2007. By now, she was 82 years old, well beyond the age when most people retire. But for Dorothy, who was in frail health most of her life and prone to frequent digestive problems, it was time for a new ministry – “to see those in prison and visit them.”
For six years, she regularly visited an inmate on death row at the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute and became close friends with another inmate at the Michigan City state prison. She also corresponded with them and phoned them, as well as their family members. A second death row inmate had requested that “a sister visit him,” so Dorothy set out to find that sister, which she did. While the sister awaited her clearance papers, Dorothy frequently called his mother and talked to her about her son. She arranged for his mother to stay with us when she visited.
Dorothy wrote about her visits to the prison: “From the beginning I have never had any hesitancy; I have never been afraid or unwilling. … I have had the joy of seeing that men on death row are human beings. There is a possibility of change in a person’s life. God’s grace is there.”
She invited these “inmate-strangers” into her heart. She “clothed” them with her compassion and gave them a sense of worth and dignity. She satisfied their spiritual “hunger and thirst” with the goodness of her own being and by sharing her deep faith in God.
When her own health became too frail to continue visiting or even calling on the phone, she no doubt held all these inmates and their families in her daily prayer. As a resident in health care, she is remembered by staff as never demanding and always thankful for even the smallest gesture of kindness. On Monday, May 25, some four months shy of her 90th birthday, Dorothy died very peacefully in Mother Theodore Hall.
I suspect that God greeted her somewhat in this fashion, “Dorothy, welcome home and thank you! Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Funeral services for Sister Dorothy took place Sunday, May 31, and Monday, June 1, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Sunday, May 31, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial took place at 11 a.m., on Monday, June 1.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Dorothy in the comment section below.
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