Left, Sister Dorothy Koenig and (deceased) Sister Mary Lou Hoelscher with Franciscan Father Vincent Mes; middle, Sister Dorothy during the Sisters of the Precious Blood 175th anniversary celebration in Phoenix; right, Sisters (deceased) Gemma and Dorothy Koenig in front of the Evangelization Center in Holbrook, Ariz. Courtesy photos
On Mondays Sister Dorothy (M. Angelista) Koenig boards a bus with other parishioners from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Clare of Assisi parishes for a ride into Phoenix and the 500 meals they will help prepare and serve at St. Vincent de Paul.
Sister Dorothy is among thousands of volunteers who help feed those in need. She is also a veteran of kitchens, large and small, as food service bookends her ministry as a Sister of the Precious Blood. Sister Dorothy chuckles, noting her volunteering today is reminiscent of her first 28 years in religious life when she was a cook in seminaries and schools in Ohio, Indiana and Colorado.
As a cook at St. Joseph College in Rensselear, Ind., Sister Dorolthy helped cook for the Chicago Bears. She remembers the players coming through the line.
“Our job was to see that they had food and putting it on the players’ trays.”
In between the time in the kitchens, Sister Dorothy worked as an audio-visual coordinator at a New Mexico diocesan religious center, was a grade school teacher’s aide and spent years providing home care and companionship for the elderly.
It’s a journey that has taken her from her childhood farm in Ohio to Dayton to the missions in rural Arizona and New Mexico and, finally, to the suburbs of Phoenix.
A native of Wapakoneta, Ohio, Sister Dorothy grew up on a farm, one of ten children. Farm chores were shared. Dorothy cared for the chickens, helped with the garden and preserved food. Life on the farm was an education unto itself.
“You learn everything there,” Sister Dorothy said. “You really need mathematics and (learn) how things grow.”
After her sophomore year in high school, she followed her sister, M. Gemma, who was two years older, into the community. While Sister Gemma went off to be a teacher, Sister Dorothy settled down in the kitchens. Sister Gemma taught in Ohio and California so the siblings had little contact during the first 30 years of their religious life. Eventually, Sister Gemma arrived in the Gallup, N.M. diocese and Sister Dorothy soon joined her.
She grew to love the west, “no matter how hot it gets,” Sister Dorothy said. “It’s dry and you see blue sky most of the time. We see beauty in the grounds and rocks.”
While Sister Gemma served out in the missions, Sister Dorothy began her audio visual work in the library at the Center for Evangelization and Christian Formation for the Gallup Diocese. She interacted with Sisters from other communities, getting them materials for their work in the rural areas.
“They were all missionaries,” she said. “We’d get together for retreats and luncheons.”
Sister Dorothy brought a dog she was watching for someone to one of those gatherings and the dog took off down a hall just as the bishop walked in, she recalled with a laugh.
Sister Dorothy also worked as an elementary school teachers’ aide in Holbrook, Ariz. It was a position she enjoyed, particularly working with first graders.
Care and companionship for the elderly was the next leg of Sister Dorothy’s journey, a ministry she served for 17 years. During this time, Sister Dorothy offered respite care, home care and companionship. In addition to caring for people, she would often protect them from unscrupulous craftsmen. If a toilet was running, for example, she would offer to fix it herself instead of calling in a plumber who might take advantage.
“They were such nice people. They were kind,” she said. “You went home knowing you had done something worthwhile. You felt you were helping people.”
Though now retired, Sister Dorothy continues to volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul. In addition to her work in the kitchen, she collects donations for the agency monthly and helps with a newsletter. She lives with her biological sister and they typically attend a hour of Eucharistic adoration at St. Clement of Rome Parish in Sun City, and she often attends another hour on Friday at St. Elizabeth Seton. Sister Dorothy enjoys spending time outside and keeps up with yard work.
“I have enough to do,” she said. “I was always doing something. You’re supposed to do things for people and I always did the best I could with the knowledge I had.”
Story by Dave Eck