Asked to reflect on 70 years of religious life, Sister Dorothy McKeague said, “I loved Campbellsport! I loved the nature, the quiet, the older sisters and the chance to help them.” Sister Dorothy has lived a type of “Martha and Mary” life: a contemplative at heart, yet one in service to many others.
The “bend” toward time with God began while in grade school. Sister Barnaba Lucey, her favorite fourth grade teacher, invited her to attend Tuesday evening Mother of Perpetual Help devotions and Dorothy enjoyed being there. Much later, in a discussion with another School Sister from the same mission, Dorothy was told, “We knew even then that you would be a sister!”
During a retreat at Alvernia High School, Dorothy remembers the Jesuit director saying, “If you even think about being a sister, that is your calling – even if you don’t respond.” While she doubts that statement now, Dorothy did reflect on it then, and after her sophomore year she entered the community and “never looked back.”
Dorothy’s early years in ministry were spent teaching primary and intermediate level children. Her favorite was a group of fifth grade boys who convinced her to start a boys’ choir. Having piano lessons when young, she agreed.
“I loved the kids, but after 23 years, I realized I didn’t like teaching,” she said. She knew she did not want any form of administrative work, but wasn’t sure what to do. “I realized I had to spend extended time in prayer to find out what God wanted.”
Having been missioned in Northern Michigan and enjoying the nature there, Dorothy “chose to go to find my contemplative side” at the Merton Center for Contemplative Prayer in Quebec. “The place was primitive and quiet and beautiful. I learned how to pray deeply, and I loved it.” After two years, Dorothy was asked to become part of the staff assisting new participants with tasks involving essential hospitality.
When Dorothy received a phone call from a friend at St. Matthias School in Chicago, she was asked to come and help cook for 13 sisters ministering at the school. Heeding the community’s request, she nourished the sisters for two years. “I didn’t have formal training, but I could easily follow recipes!” she said.
Although she enjoyed the sisters, the inner call for additional solitude returned. This time, Dorothy spent extended time at the Lebh Shomea (“Listening Heart”) house of prayer in Sarita, Texas. She spent private time in silent prayer and study and provided some meal-related guest services. Dorothy was grateful for the time there to become more intimate with God.
“In 1986, Sister Mary Schmaderer asked where I might like to be assigned. She approved my choice of Campbellsport and so I went there first as a seamstress. All I did before prepared me for that place. I loved the country, the trees, the river. Mostly, I loved the sisters.
“After a short time, I was asked to work the switchboard and welcome guests. My, how the sisters loved to visit! We had many conversations, and I grew to love them deeply - they were special!”
When the need for a Personal Services Director arose, the sisters encouraged Dorothy to apply for the position. Hesitant, due to never wanting administrative work, she spent a day asking God, “What do you want me to do?” In the end, she took the job and completed her work at Campbellsport 16 years later.
Over the course of years, Dorothy drove and visited her family in Illinois, Oklahoma, and Nevada. After her sister Jeanne became ill, Dorothy asked to remain near Reno, Nevada, to care for her.
“There, too, I was prepared,” she said. “We had separate apartments across from each other so I could pray alone but also take Jean out to the mountains and other beautiful places and nurse her until her death.”
Dorothy returned to Milwaukee in 2016, retiring at St. Joseph Center and later at Sacred Heart where she spends time visiting, reading, and engaging in contemplative prayer. “In all those years, I was always sure God wanted me in community. I never changed my mind, and I am so grateful!”
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