Twice a nun, forever gratitude-filled
Sr. Dolores Dean returns to the Benedictines at age 72
Deep peace, the kind that transforms the soul and ripples outward into the world, is not guaranteed in this life. Benedictine Sister Dolores Dean knows what it’s like to obtain such a gift, to lose it and then — nearly a lifetime later — come home to it for good.
“It hasn’t always been easy, but you hang on,” said Sister Dolores, 83. “What it comes down to is you just have to find where God wants you to be. For me it took a long time until everything could come to fruition.”
Cane in hand and clad in a full black-and-white traditional habit, Sister Dolores deftly navigates her way around the St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow, where she’s lived for the past two years.
Blind since birth, she grew up decades before the Americans with Disabilities Act and the accommodations it brought with it.
Yet the tough, quick-witted sister is not one to dwell on obstacles. During a recent interview at the monastery, Sister Dolores discussed her life with ample humor and not a trace of sentimentality.
Born in 1931 and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., she attended the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, a boarding school in the Bronx. After high school she enrolled in a small Catholic college run by the Sisters of Divine Compassion in White Plains, N.Y. The sisters there were devout and caring, and they helped confirm what she’d always known: “I wanted to be a sister; that’s all I ever wanted,” she said.
Under the sisters’ instruction, the young Dolores worked hard in college. While a good student, she had difficulty obtaining textbooks in a form that was accessible to her. With the help of government funds, she hired classmates to read books to her while she took notes in braille. A skilled typist, she composed papers on a typewriter.
During senior year, Dolores began to look into different religious communities, seeking out an order that was both active and contemplative.
It was the late 1940s, though, and not a lot of blind women were going to college, let alone joining a religious order. She wrote to many communities, but most were unable to accept a blind applicant.
“There were a lot of disappointments, a lot of rejection letters, a lot of tears,” Sister Dolores recalled.
Finally, the Benedictines invited her for a visit.