Sister Amata Dugan
“Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.’ And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying ‘He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.’ But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house.'”
—- Luke 19:1-8
My reason for choosing this reading for our wake service goes beyond the obvious similarity of Zacchaeus and Amata – both being short in stature. I chose it, too, because Zacchaeus came down out of the tree quickly and joined the crowd, receiving Jesus with joy. Amata was at her best “joining the crowd,” and mingling with people. She was a woman who exuded a joyful spirit wherever she was, as will be revealed as this commentary unfolds, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Amata Dugan, who died Tuesday, March 14. She was 85 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 66 years.
Helen Theresa was the youngest of two sisters, Mary and Ann, and three brothers, Pat, John and Bill, all deceased now. Helen was born to John and Marie Melvin Dugan on October 5, 1930, in Indianapolis. She attended St. Anthony Grade School and St. Mary Academy, both in Indianapolis. Sister Marceline Mattingly taught Helen’s older brother, Bill, and remembers Helen as a third-grader. (For the sake of our guests who might be wondering about the math, Sister Marceline celebrated her 100th birthday in November).
She related, “Every day short and plump Helen appeared in the big boys’ playground and would just stand there staring at me with her hands behind her back. Her brother got his friends to join him in teasing her by yelling across the yard, ‘HELL-o, HELL-en!’ but still she stood undaunted.’ And Marceline could not get her to speak to her. It was not until Helen entered the Congregation some 15 years later that Marceline found out why little Helen stood and stared at her. No, it was nothing sublime like the first seeds of her vocation. Actually, she told Marceline, ‘Never in my life had I seen anyone as tall as you!’
Another story from Helen’s youth was related by Sister Ruth Johnson, a close friend. It seems that two ladies in the neighborhood befriended 5-year-old Helen and would often take her to the ice cream parlor. The first time they did this, Helen asked if they had any mashed potatoes! She loved mashed potatoes and never lost her love for them. These same ladies often took her to a nearby pub where she would dance on the table, to the delight of everyone, except Helen’s father, who, when he heard of it, told the ladies never to take her there again.
Helen entered the Congregation on Feb. 2, 1950, and was given the religious name, Amata. She was received into the novitiate that same year, made her first profession in 1952 and professed final vows in 1957, all on the feast of the Assumption, August 15. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, the former from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, and the latter from Ball State University.
Sister Amata spent 28 years in elementary education as teacher and served seven of those as a principal, too. She was assigned a different mission every two years, always teaching first-grade, in Chicago, Fort Wayne, and Hollywood, Calif. Then she settled in, I mean really settled in, at St. Malachy in Brownsburg, where she served as teacher a principal (at the same time, sometimes with two grades) for 15 years.
She evidently decided she liked staying places for a duration because she was 23 years in her next ministry at Maryvale Apartments, a senior residential facility adjacent to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was a clerical assistant for one year and manager for 22. When she left there in 2002, she ministered in residential and health care services here at the motherhouse until her own health failed in 2014.
While manager of Maryvale, she received an Excellence in Customer Service Award, prompted by a survey of the residents, 98 percent of whom rated her “excellent.” One of the residents asked her one time what “Amata” meant and she told him, “It’s Latin for the word ‘love.'” Ever after, if he needed to get her attention down the long corridors, he would call out, “Sister Love, Sister Love.” And loving others – all ages, and in all circumstances, is no doubt how she will be remembered for she never met a stranger and enjoyed being with others, caring about them and spreading joy and laughter wherever she went.
And how could a commentary about Sister Amata be complete without mentioning the teapot skit. As her dear friend, Sister Mary Cecile, recounts, “In the early 60s, the two of us appeared on the Conservatory stage. I sang ‘I’m a little teapot stout,’ and we both added gestures and dance steps. One was the handle of the teapot and the other the spout. And ever after we were known as the ‘teapot sisters.’ That act was repeated dozens of times through the years and no one seemed to tire of it.”
Another skit required Amata to play a piano duet with Mary Cecile. According to Mary Cecile, “Amata had only two notes to play, but insisted on weeks of practice. She told me to stop volunteering her to do stupid acts, but she really enjoyed the laughter and applause. Always bringing laughter to others, that was Amata.”
Amata loved to joke with others and sometimes the joke was on her. Sister Ruth tells the story of being with Amata and several other sisters at a chalet in the Gatlinburg mountains.
“There were signs everyone, ‘Do not feed the bears.’ Amata, for days, would say, ‘I hope we see a bear. I so want to see a bear.’ She would even stand outside on the porch that wrapped the chalet on three sides, hoping to see one.”
On one such occasion, Ruth sneaked in from the side porch and behind Amata and let out a very authentic sounding, “Grrr.” Amata let out a yell and continued yelling as she ran all the way around the house to the front door.
Another close friend, Sister Christine Patrick, shared this memory: “When we lived in Owens Hall, she would often dance down the hallway in her moo-moo, carrying her boom box and belting out ‘Hello Dolly,’ or one of her favorite Irish tunes.”
And mentioning Irish, Amata was an avid Notre Dame fan. Once while being interviewed by a Tribune-Star reporter, she mentioned her love for the Fighting Irish, and told him, “In fact, if any of those big wigs you know have any extra tickets …”
Amata seemed happiest when serving and caring for others and making people feel happy and included. Those of us here at the Woods observed this daily with her dedication to Sister Eleanor Pierce, who was confined to a geriatric chair and unable to speak. Amata pushed her everywhere – around the halls of Providence, so she could “help” Amata pass mail, to parties, to a morning or afternoon snack in the dining room – companioning her as often as possible and spending hours with her.
One has to look at the photos displayed in the rear of the Church to realize the joy that permeated Amata’s countenance. That joy remained even in her years of dementia. She still never met a stranger, her ready smile conveying that inner joy which pervades a peaceful soul.
In the signature sign off words of TV personality Carol Burnett … Amata …
“We’re so glad we had this time together
Just to have a laugh or sing a song
Seems we just get started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say, ‘so long.'”
Funeral services for Sister Amata were Sunday, March 20, and Monday, March 21, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Sunday, March 20, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial took place at 11 a.m., on Monday, March 21.
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