by Dean Backes
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — With a small group of family and friends looking on, postulant Dorothy Herring took one more leap of faith Feb. 11 and received the nod of approval to join the novitiate with the Benedictine Sisters at Mount St. Scholastica here.
Following a short ceremony at vespers, about 80 Benedictine Sisters gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to their former registered nurse now becoming a novice.
“She is very pleasant. Outgoing,” said the novice’s formation director Sister Patricia Seipel. “She is very service-oriented in that she is used to offering service to others, and she does that readily.”
Having earned her nursing degree from Johnson County Community College and Benedictine College in 2014, Herring began her work caring for elderly Sisters at the Benedictine Sisters’ licensed nursing home.
She soon began visiting with the Sisters about their experiences and what religious life had been like for them. Then, in the fall of 2019, she realized her own calling was to join religious life.
After meeting with vocational director Sister Marcia Ziska, OSB, for some time, Herring resigned from her nursing position and became the eighth woman from Immaculate Conception Parish in Valley Falls to enter religious life on Jan. 22, 2022.
“The first few years in community is a time to get to know more about us,” said Sister Patricia. “To learn about the history of our community, the Rule of St. Benedict and just to get to know us, to get to know our community.”
A fourth-generation religious, the new novice followed her mother’s cousin Father Albert Pecinovsky, her great-aunt Sister Mary de Lourdes Heinen, her great-great-uncle Father Lambert Heinen and his siblings Sister Mary Lambertine Heinen and Sister Mary Augustus Heinen into religious life.
“When I was in high school, Aunt Mary (Sister Mary de Lourdes Heinen) always told me that I should become a nun. That I could do everything that I wanted to,” the novice recalled. “I just didn’t feel called.
“It was actually at a funeral for one of the Sisters that I felt God was calling me to religious life. It was a call that I could not avoid. It was just so strong.”
Prior to the pandemic, Herring had taken her nursing skills on mission trips to Colombia and Mexico. Because of her background, Sister Patricia and prioress Sister Esther Fangman thought it’d be a great experience for her to volunteer at the border for a week-and-a-half before entering her novitiate years.
“I think it was an opportunity to grow in serving others and just reaching out with compassion,” Sister Patricia said of sending Herring on another mission trip.
Herring traveled with Sister Siena Fisk of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Eagle Pass, Texas. There, the two met up with Sister Ursula Herrera, a member of the Benedictine Sisters in Boerne, Texas, who runs Caridad de Corazon, a mission house that processes migrants who have just been released from detention from the Customs Border Patrol.
“Many of the immigrants come to the border wearing flip flops with thick socks and T-shirts,” said Herring. “Really not anything that would prepare them for moving onto wherever they may go. So, we took down some shoes and socks and clothes to be handed out.”
The two also visited an orphanage for children and adults with special needs who had been abandoned by their parents and stopped in as well at a couple of homes that housed family members with special needs and the loved ones that cared for them.
One of the sick family members had been attacked by a machete and was in a coma, while the other was paralyzed from the chest down and was bed bound. The two took them food and offered them spiritual support and took the orphans out to eat.
“That was just a joy to see,” said Herring, of getting the orphans out of the house. “Just interacting with them and seeing the joy that they had for being able to be away from home. It’s something that they usually get to do once or twice a year.”
The most disheartening part of her trip to the border, she said, was going to San Antonio to observe an immigration hearing of a woman that worked at the shelter.
As it turned out, she continued, the hearing was two days prior. The judge closed the case and had orders for the woman’s removal. The volunteer was illiterate, and the paperwork was in English, not in Spanish.
Although the new novice is encouraged by the hope some individuals have knowing there are people still trying to help immigrants who are trying to come into the country, she said going to the border opened her eyes.
“Living in Kansas, I feel like we’re removed, so a lot of what we’re told is sensationalized. And then there is the rhetoric of the politicians,” she said. “There is a lack of knowledge of what goes on at the border and really what the people are fleeing from.
“They are coming from countries in which there is political violence, unrest, gang violence. And the people that are entering legally are just trying to make a better life for themselves.
“Even the people that are entering illegally aren’t the animals some people want us to believe. They’re just trying to better their family’s lives.”
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