Sister Dorothy Feltz, SSJ, keeps herself busy these days. When she's not at the Lighthouse cleaning the Clarence retreat facility, she's with her faith-sharing group at the Williamstowne Apartments. Then there are those fundraisers for Future in Our Hands, and, of course, the monthly prayer and reflections sessions, and let's not forget those book discussions in Cheektowaga.
"I have a lot of energy, and if I can offer anything to anybody, I want to be present to them, help in any way I can, listen to them," she said shortly after Mass.
With the spark of the Energizer Bunny and disposition of Mrs. Santa Claus, Sister Dorothy has continued to serve God's people in prayer since retiring from Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in 2006. She won't say how old she is, but admits to entering the order in 1947, and allows others to do the math.
Born in the small farming town of Cassella, Ohio, into a medium-sized family of one sister and two brothers, Sister Dorothy was drawn to the Sisters of St. Joseph by an aunt who was a member of the order.
"Every time she came home for a visit she would bring a few of us back to Buffalo," Sister Dorothy said with a laugh. "I had six relatives in our community - first cousins and neighbors. She heard I was entering the Franciscans, and she talked me into coming to Buffalo to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph. I guess it was meant to be."
She hoped to follow her aunt to St. Mary's School for the Deaf, but Sister Dorothy doesn't think she was cut out to work there.
"When I was assigned there, I didn't really do well."
She went on to a more successful ministry as a first-grade teacher in many schools from 1949-1965.
A big change in her ministry came when the bishop of Bolivia asked the superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph to send some sisters to work in his diocese. Sister Dorothy served 11 years as a missionary in La Paz.
"That was one of my favorite areas," she said. "I always said we thought we went to teach the people about God, but I learned that they taught me about God. They really brought me close to God with their simple lives."
Although she had to learn Spanish for the task and sometimes had to haul water from a well, she was very attracted to missionary life.
"I was from a little town," she said. "I grew up with an outhouse, no TV. I grew up in a very poor family in a poor community. 1931 in that area, we were all poor. Our mothers canned and patched out clothes because we were all poor, and no one was better off than the other. I thought I would fit into missionary life because I was used to a simple life."
Four Buffalo priests had gone one year ahead and set up a house with running water and a well. The water had to be boiled and filtered before drinking. Food had to be soaked in iodine solution to avoid hepatitis.
They expected to start a parish and have people come to a central church like they did in the United States, but found it wasn't practical. There was more of a need to go out to the people and be present to them in homes. Priests would go out to the people for baptisms and Masses, because it was too far for some people to come to the shed they used as church.
"It was more community visiting and sort of social work," Sister Dorothy said. We had our Masses in a big shed with chairs in it. Since I left, they've built a church."
Sister Dorothy worked with the youth, holding prayer sessions and charismatic meetings that met almost every night. The youth would bring maracas and guitars.
"It was so beautiful," she said. "I did a lot of home ec, you would call it, with the girls. Teach them how to properly make a bed, cook and sew. All the missionaries were very close to one another. We met to pray together. It wasn't only Catholic missionaries, but Friends, and Methodists and Lutherans and Baptists. We all got together at least once a week to pray together and share our friendship."
She only came back home after Bishop Edward D. Head called the priests back to Buffalo. Msgr. Vincent Becker and Sister Dorothy were the last to leave.
That area has developed in the passing years. Sister Dorothy maintains contact with a girl from her group, who came to Buffalo to study at Medaille College. She went back to La Paz and works at the Bolivian Institute for English. There are more paved roads and public transportation now.
Upon returning to Buffalo, Sister Dorothy began a new ministry as a hospital chaplain, serving at Our Lady of Victory Hospital in Lackawanna, and later Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Williamsville.
"At OLV, they didn't have a maternity ward," she said. "My first two on calls were babies born dead, stillborn. Ugh, I almost lost it the first time. The baby was so beautiful. The mother held the baby in her arms. We learned as chaplains that you didn't really have to say anything when there was a death or a deep period of grief. You just had to be there and listen, because they wouldn't remember what you said, but later they would thank you so much for all you did for them, when all you did was be there."
Sister Dorothy retired from Millard Fillmore Suburban. Her time there has special meaning for her.
"It was a new experience for me and I was nervous about going there because I had never worked in any other institute except for a Catholic institute," she said. "I wondered how it would be, but it was a wonderful experience to work with all different denominations."
After "retiring," most religious sisters continue to work in prayer ministries or within their own communities, answering phones or helping in the kitchen. Sister Dorothy started her work at the Lighthouse.
The Sisters of St. Joseph had owned property in Appleton, which included a hermitage used for quiet respites. When that property was sold, Sister Dorothy wanted to continue to offer people a place for prayer and meditation.
She asked for permission to use the small house on Strickler Road that the youth that used it called the Lighthouse. Sister Dorothy got busy cleaning it up. After working at Our Lady of Victory Hospital during the day, she would head to Clarence to paint and hang wallpaper.
It opened in 1993. The second Saturday of every month, she uses the Lighthouse for a prayer group. That prayer group is moving to SS. Peter & Paul in Williamsville beginning in December.
When not in Clarence, she takes part in a faith-sharing group at the Williamstowne Village in Cheektowaga and helps Father Robert McArtney with Mass at the senior community.
"When we get together for faith sharing it's beautiful," Sister Dorothy said. "Faith sharing is not like you and I talking back and forth. Faith sharing is listening to each other. We have a lot of faith-sharing groups in our community, and we always receive something from leadership and they ask us to reflect on whatever they suggest we reflect on."
She also helps Sister Linda Glaeser, SSJ, co-founder of Future in Our Hands-USA, raise money for the non-profit organization that supports education, health care, sanitation and to help obtain potable water for impoverished people throughout the world.
In her free time, she does what she can for a secular cause, the Buffalo Cochlear Implant Group. Sister Dorothy has used the hearing device seven years ago, and does whatever she can for the group.
"I'm very busy. I need someone to clean my house. It's a mess. When I'm getting ready for garage sales, it's always a mess," she said, with another laugh.