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Benedictine Sister Mary Dolores Dowling passes

Benedictine Sister Mary Dolores Dowling passes - (03-02-2016)

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Benedictine Sister of Perpetual Adoration Mary Dolores Dowling, OSB, passed away on Feb. 2, 2016, in Clyde, Missouri.

She was born Mary Therese Elizabeth on March 12, 1926, in Ottawa, Ontario, to John and Anne McCormac Dowling. She was the oldest of three children, two girls and a boy.

Their Irish home was full of love and hugs, she often said. “Our father put his family first, and our mother was able to stay at home and be there for us,” she recalled. “They were both loving, generous people with a faith stronger than Gibraltar.”

Their neighborhood was mostly Catholic, and they attended daily Mass. Their home was filled with books, and Mary learned early the joy of reading.  “We didn’t play with dolls,” she said. “We played with books.”  Her love of reading lasted until several days before her death.

Mary’s father had gifts of wit and of storytelling, often regaling the family with stories. The family spent time each summer at a cottage near a lake to avoid the humidity of Ottawa summers.  “We had a huge rowboat that my father called the Queen Mary, and we would swim around him in the water like dolphins,” she said. “Love of nature was bred in me…the sea and the hills….”

Mary attended Catholic school through high school. She enjoyed history, English and geography.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Ottawa University. A minor in philosophy provided insight into how she approached the world and its people: with objectivity and humor.

During college, Mary began to listen more closely to the call in her heart towards religious life. She discovered that apostolic works did not attract her but a life of contemplation did. Contemplative communities near her home were French-speaking, so she began her vocation search with English-speaking orders in New York, Baltimore…and Clyde. “I liked the reply I received from Clyde. It wasn’t exuberant but told me what I needed to do and what I needed to have and to be, and I liked that,” she recalled. Subsequent communication between Mary and the Sisters resulted in an invitation to enter in the summer of 1948, sight unseen.

“The night before I left, my daddy had me in his arms,” she said. “I could feel his tears on my hair. ‘Only for God would I let you go,’ he told me.”

She got on a plane and was on her way to America. She spent the night at the Sisters’ community in Kansas City, Missouri, before Mother Mary Carmelita Quinn put her on a train bound for Clyde. Around this time her brother, Jack, discerned his vocation to enter the Blessed Sacrament Fathers. She and her brother shared a treasured friendship about their common search for God and their love of Eucharist.

As a postulant, Mary developed a keen love for the Divine Office, the contemplative life and adjusted to rural life. “It wasn’t much different from the time we spent at the cottage by the lake,” she said. “However, in Clyde there was no air conditioning. If I could survive the heat and humidity, I really did have a vocation because it was dreadful.”  

With humor, Mary recalled the other big test of her formation - buttermilk soup with raisins. “Dear God, who on earth invented that?” she laughed at the memory. Buttermilk soup aside, she made her First Monastic Profession on April 13, 1950, taking the name of Mary Dolores. Her final vows were May 3, 1955.

She began a 14-year assignment in the editorial department, putting her English degree and love of reading to good use by helping publish the Congregational magazine, Spirit&Life. 

Sister Mary Dolores was one of four BSPA Sisters who attended the Benedictine Institute of Sacred Theology (BIST) each summer in Minnesota for five years. She graduated with a master’s degree in theology from St. John’s University in 1964. In the late 1960s and 1970s she gave retreats and talks to groups of monks and religious women. In the years following Vatican II, she shared her appreciation and enthusiasm for the Church’s new directions. Her love for the Eucharist was shared in classes with many in formation and in her writing. Sister Mary Dolores was among the first group of teachers selected for a Benedictine Renewal program in Rome for young professed from English-speaking countries.

She served on the General Council twice during the 1970s and 1980s; some of those years were difficult as the Congregration began to close monasteries after the numbers declined. At other times she served in the Sisters' San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, communities as prioress. After one term, she took a sabbatical year, studying Christology and Scripture at the University of California-Berkeley, and went to Europe. 

In the 1970s she was assigned to write a history of the Benedictine Sisters. The result was her book, "In Your Midst: The Story of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration," published in 1988. She lived at the communities in St. Louis, San Diego and Tucson before moving to Our Lady of Rickenbach Healthcare center in Clyde in 2013.  

A contemplative life was one she cherished. “To live in conditions that favor the experience of God is something I will always be grateful for. Prayer is involved in every minute of life,” she once said. “God is not sitting on the doorstep of heaven waiting for us to get there. He’s with us in the walking and the washing and the writing, whatever it is. Don’t look beyond, but look in.”

Sister Mary Dolores died after a brief illness as her companions, Sisters Audrey Jones, OSB, Marietta Crahan, OSB and Mary John Meyer, OSB, prayed with her.  She is survived by her sister, Anne Stewart, a nephew, Walter, other family, and her monastic family. Her funeral liturgy and burial at our Mount Calvary Cemetery will take place Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.

A brief video sharing memories of Sister Mary Dolores has been posted to the Benedictine Sisters' YouTube page here.