Sr Dorothea White sm
Sr Dorothea was called to eternal life on the evening of Friday 12th August. At her funeral on Thursday 18th August Sr Julie Brand delivered the following eulogy.
It was said of our Foundress, Jeanne-Marie Chavoin, in her early years: Each day brought out more clearly her sound judgement, a remarkable aptitude for business and a rare gift for organising, combined with a sincere and practical piety……….She seemed made for self-forgetfulness and sacrifice and was irresistibly drawn to spend herself for the glory of God and the good of others. (RMJ 279:7) How like our Foundress was Sr Dorothea – a valiant woman of unwavering faith, totally committed to living the Gospel in the spirit of Mary and spending herself, like Jeanne-Marie Chavoin, for the glory of God and the good of others.
Dorothea, whom we affectionately called Dot or Dotty, was born in Mascot on 2nd July 1924, the eldest child of Laurence and Amy White. She was baptised Amy Agnes, and known by her family as Ness. In the early 1930’s the White family moved from Sydney to Katoomba, where Amy completed primary education and attended secondary school before enrolling in the Metropolitan Business College. After completing a Business course, she assisted at the College for a short while as a staff member.
On 15th August 1945 Amy entered the Marist Sisters at Merrylands. The following year she was received as a novice and given the name Dorothea. Dot would often recall her period of formation, remembering the poverty and hardship of these years and the Sisters’ reliance on Divine Providence. Though tempted to return home, the inspiration of women such as Mother Mary of Victories, gave her strength and courage. Dot continued her journey in response to God’s call, celebrating her First Profession on 8th September 1947. Thus began her many years of selfless Marist ministry. Dot was first appointed to Woolwich and then to Mittagong and Bowral where she taught infant and primary aged children. However, it was not until 1952 that Dot had the opportunity to attend Teachers’ College at Mount Street, North Sydney, where she honed her teaching skills before being missioned to New Zealand in 1953. She ministered as an Infant and Primary teacher there for seven years, returning to Sydney in 1960 to continue teaching at St. Margaret Mary’s Primary School, Merrylands.
At the beginning of 1967 Dot was asked to leave teaching and take up a new work as Bursar for the Merrylands community. Sisters recall that Dot loved teaching and felt this move greatly. However, in typical fashion she took up this new role with unwavering energy, surrendering as always to God’s Will. She was a practical woman, who was tireless in attending to the needs of a large community, and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. One of my early memories of Dot is seeing her up on a ladder checking the guttering above the kitchen. Following in Dot’s footsteps was indeed rather daunting. Sr Gemma recalls that, when Dot was handing over the role of Bursar at Merrylands before moving to Woolwich, she showed Gemma a huge black cape that hung behind the door. “This”, she said, “is for after a storm when you need to climb up onto the roof to check on the tiles”! Gemma tells us that she never did use the cape, but learnt from Dot a lesson in poverty of spirit and total commitment. During her years as Bursar in Merrylands Dot undertook a Catering course and many of us remember the festive celebrations when Dot went to no end of trouble to ensure that the food looked as good as it tasted. Dot loved to cook and I’m sure many have enjoyed meals and treats lovingly prepared by her. She also loved to tend the garden, not simply pruning and watering, but working hard to clear the ground, fertilise the soil, keep the weeds at bay and nurture the young plants. There were no half-measures with Dot! She delighted in nature, enjoying the beauty of the sea and the mountains, the birds and the animals.
In 1981 Dot began another new chapter in her life when she accepted appointment to Gladstone, Queensland, to undertake Parish pastoral ministry. I had the privilege of living with Dot for the first four years of her time in Gladstone. I witnessed first-hand her total dedication and generous service, and her ability to inspire, empower and organise. In fact, Dot’s organisation of tasks, and people too, could leave one feeling rather overwhelmed! One of the most demanding aspects of Dot’s work at this time was calling forth people to serve as catechists in the numerous schools of Gladstone and the Calliope Shire. Dot trained and supported them in their ministry, co-ordinating the work of over sixty catechists. She had a great love for the children at the Special School and for the sick and the aged. She showed particular concern for the people in isolated country areas, visiting them as often as she could. Dot drew many people to deepen their faith, identifying those who were struggling to believe or belong and offering them support and encouragement. She was highly regarded by the Gladstone Council of Clergy, who valued her opinions and insights. Indeed, Dot had an exceptional ecumenical spirit. She was inclusive, big-hearted and broad-minded. In 1988 – the Bicentennial Year – Dot was awarded the Gladstone Australia Day Citizens’ Award. Fr. Tom Fulcher wrote the citation on that occasion and it reflected the high esteem in which Dot was held, not only by himself, the Marist Fathers and parishioners, but also by so many people of the district.
After leaving Queensland Dot took up appointments in Victoria, continuing Parish pastoral ministry in the Burwood area and then in Laverton. She was actively involved in all aspects of parish life, particularly the RCIA and Sacramental programmes, and visitation of the sick, lonely and isolated. She was thoughtful and practical. Sr Cath recalls with deep gratitude the care Dot took of her father on the day of her mother’s sudden death. Dot was there to organise and assist. She was always ready to reach out to those in need, especially the poor and struggling, despite the fact that she herself suffered her own health setbacks, particularly while in Laverton. Dot was very committed to social justice, and women’s issues. She was a Marist woman who moved with the times, keen to read and embrace new ideas. She was constantly updating herself through participation in courses, seminars and e-conferences.
From her early days in the Congregation Dot had always shown special care for our sick and frail Sisters. In 2005 she generously accepted appointment as Community Leader of Marian House, where for two years she cared for each member of the community with selfless energy. After moving to Haberfield and then to Blacktown, Dot continued to visit Sisters in residential Aged Care facilities, often travelling significant distances by public transport when unwell herself. When the time came for Dot to receive special care, the staff at Minnamurra were delighted to welcome her, as she had been a regular visitor there when Sr. Norma was in residence, and they knew her as a loving woman who took pleasure in sharing stories and bringing joy to others. Indeed Dot was a great story teller, who had a sense of humour and enjoyed a laugh. She was also a prolific writer, corresponding with many people and keeping detailed personal journals.
Dot’s two great ‘loves’ were her family and her Congregation. She was always actively involved with her family, showing care and concern for all her relatives. Her love for the Congregation was unquestionable and she strove in all ways possible to promote vocations and encourage younger Sisters. Though strong and determined, Dot was accepting of decisions made by those in authority and always embraced God’s Will in her life.
Dot was a woman of deep faith and prayer, who, like our Foundress, loved to sit before the Lord in the Tabernacle. She had known suffering throughout her life and the Cross was at times a heavy one to bear, particularly in these latter years. However, Dot’s trust in God was unwavering. In the midst of suffering she had known deep spiritual joys through God’s revelation to her in unique ways. One way in which God had revealed His love for her was through her encounter with the brolgas. This happened while she was struggling through a dark period when on Retreat in Yeppoon, Queensland. In recent times she would often say, with an ecstatic smile, “I saw the brolgas dancing!” On the night of 12th August Dot breathed forth her spirit in union with Jesus in the presence of four of us, her Sisters. Now you have experienced the fullness of God’s revelation, Dot, and are surely dancing with the brolgas in Heaven. Remember us before the Lord. May you rest in peace.
Eternal Rest Grant to her O Lord.
May perpetual light shine upon her.
May she rest in peace.Amen