SISTER DOROTHY FERGUSON
1915-2006

Sister Dorothy Ferguson’s artistic talent is shown in the beautiful handwriting that we see displayed in the St. Catherine letters that she wrote to Sister Marion Wittstock in the 1980s. She wrote:

My reputation as a calligrapher had an interesting beginning. After studying “The Art of Beautiful Writing” under the direction of Lloyd Cowan at the Art Institute of Chicago, I began applying what I had learned to all sorts of announcements, bulletin boards, etc., without realizing the amount of dexterity I had achieved. It was Graham Carey, author of Lettering for Today, who called attention to my expertise, declaring that I was among the ten best calligraphers in the country.

In her first letter, she wrote much about her parents, Louis and Dolores (O’Leary) Ferguson. Louis Ferguson was born in France of an Irish father and a Flemish mother. Dolores O’Leary was a Michigan native, the offspring of a German mother and an Irish father. Their Grandmother O’Leary, however, was the only grandparent that the children knew. They also knew their mother’s youngest sister, Sister Elizabeth Irene, a St. Joseph Sister of Nazareth, Michigan, who was an inspiration to her nieces; and the relatives included several other priests and religious sisters.

Louis Ferguson had trained in art, and after his immigration to the United States he found a position as an upholsterer, and later opened his own upholstery shop. He met Dolores O’Leary at a dance. Following their marriage the Fergusons settled in Detroit, but soon moved to a Michigan farm between Utica and Rochester. His upholstery shop was in Rochester, and before and after work he assisted with the farm chores. His second child, Dorothy, was born on March 27, 1915, preceded by her older sister Emily and followed by Florence, James, Irene, and Agnes. Sister Dorothy wrote:

The doctor was summoned but did not arrive at our home soon enough, so my father had the awesome responsibility of delivering me into the world. It was he who named me “Dorothy — Gift of God.” I was the only one in the family who was not named after a relative.

She also wrote of her admiration for her father. He continued painting and drawing, and watching him aroused in Dorothy a love for art. She wrote, “I loved to sit quietly and watch him paint a landscape, and pose for him.”

Dolores Ferguson died of cancer in May 1926 at the age of thirty-six. Dorothy was eleven years old. In her letter, she wrote that while her mother was living, the family had a cow, chickens, geese, orchards, and flowers. However, they had no electricity, running water, or telephone, and churned their own butter. But in spite of small hardships, they were a happy family. The mother’s death brought them tragedy at first hand. The children’s godparents offered to take them, but the father would not allow them to be separated. He kept them together in his home and at first hired housekeepers to care for them, but the housekeepers did not seem to work out.

Dorothy finished the elementary years in a country school, and spent two years of high school at St. Joseph Academy in Adrian. In her letter, Sister Dorothy wrote:

Attending St. Joseph Academy was probably the greatest influence as far as my decision to be an Adrian is concerned. In those days the Academy and the Motherhouse were in the same building, so we were able to observe postulants, novices, and professed sisters as they prayed, worked, and played. I was always impressed by their joyous spirit.

Emily was also attending St. Joseph Academy, and when their father asked that one of the older girls stay home, keep house, and care for the younger children, she was only one year from graduation. Dorothy decided that she would carry out her father’s wishes. Emily promised to return home upon graduation and take over so that Dorothy could return to the Academy and finish high school.

For a year Dorothy took care of the family. The younger children were attending St. Lawrence School, and Dorothy became well acquainted with the sisters teaching there. One of them tutored her in Latin. In August 1930, Dorothy and a friend, Muriel Martin, attended the reception ceremony in Adrian, and decided that they, too, would enter. Muriel eventually became Sister Damian.

When Emily graduated in June 1931 and returned home, she took up her responsibility for the care of the house and the younger children. Dorothy, however, did not return to St. Joseph Academy as a student. Instead, on July 2, at the age of sixteen and with her father’s permission, she entered the postulate. Within a few months she was sent to Chicago to teach third grade at St. Columbanus School for the 1931-32 school year. She returned to Adrian for the Christmas break, and received the habit and her religious name (Sister Louis Marie, in tribute to her father) on December 29. During the next summer, she took “Methods in Teaching School Art,” did well, and her teachers decided that she was talented in art and should receive more training, so she began her studies in art.

During her novitiate, her father remarried and his second wife took over the care of the house and children. This freed Emily; and, to Sister Dorothy’s delight, she entered the postulate, and was later known as Sister Dolores Marie.

Sister Dorothy and her group professed their first vows on August 8, 1933, and Sister Dorothy returned to St. Columbanus for the next school year. From that time on, most of her teaching ministry was in Midwest high schools. When she left St. Columbanus, she was assigned to the high school level at Mount St. Mary Academy in St. Charles, Illinois, where she taught art and religion for eight years and spent some of her summers studying at the Art Institute in Chicago. In July 1942, Siena Heights College (now University) in Adrian awarded her a bachelor’s degree with a major in English and minors in art and philosophy. In her letter she wrote, “I shall always be grateful to the Congregation for the educational and cultural opportunities that I have enjoyed.”

Beginning with 1942, she taught art and religion at Dominican High School in Detroit for six years. At Sister Dorothy’s wake, Sister Marie Bentz spoke of those years.

Sister Dorothy WAS the art department. Besides a full-time teaching schedule, she decorated and kept updated the large bulletin boards that lined the halls of Dominican High, responded to the many requests for specially designed greeting and congratulatory cards for distinguished clergy and guests, and spent evenings teaching calligraphy to a faculty of forty sisters. Such tasks fell to her wherever she went, from Detroit to Florida to California to Adrian. Always patient, smiling, and unruffled, Sister Louis Marie was truly a blessing and a wonder!

Upon leaving Dominican High School, Sister Dorothy spent a year as a teacher in the art department at Siena Heights College and two years at St. Joseph Academy, where in addition to art she taught clothing. In 1948, some of her work in calligraphy was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and she received letters of commendation from experts. In 1951, she was sent to Columbia Teachers College in New York City as a full-time student, and the year ended with the reception of a master’s degree in the fine arts. She then taught for three more years at Siena Heights College. In 1953, the Toledo Museum of Art awarded her first prize for her weaving project. She wrote of how much she appreciated Sister Helene O’Connor’s instruction and support, her constant encouragement to experiment and produce.

Beginning with 1955, Sister Dorothy spent five years at Hoban-Dominican High School in Cleveland, Ohio, teaching art, religion, and clothing. Six years later she was transferred to Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette, Illinois, where she taught art and religion for nine years, and took a group of students to Europe in the summer of 1965. In 1969, she was assigned to teach art at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights, Michigan, and she then spent a year teaching art at the Community College in Northville, Michigan, with her residence at Our Lady of Victory Convent.

She spent five summers traveling through Europe. Her father took his two religious daughters to Ireland to meet their Irish relatives, and they also took some classes there. During their travels in Europe, they visited France, Belgium, and Italy, had an audience with the Pope, made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, and saw many great works of art.

In the summer of 1972, Sister Dorothy studied occupational therapy at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, and received a certificate. She began her ministry in occupational therapy at Maria Health Care Center in Adrian. At the end of four years, she transferred to St. Theresa Home in Cincinnati, Ohio, for three years. It was during that time, in 1979, that she and Sister Dolores Marie returned to Utica for their father’s funeral and to comfort their brother and sisters.

When she left St. Theresa Home, Sister Dorothy again served the sisters at Maria Health Care Center in Adrian. After a year she spent two years at Weber Center in public relations and as activities director. At Sister Dorothy’s wake, Sister Joan Marconi spoke:

In the summer of 1976 I had the opportunity to assist Sister Dorothy here in Adrian with her occupational therapy program. I was so impressed with her dedication to our sisters and their needs. Her talents in arts and crafts were put to good use, as she motivated each sister through these modalities to overcome her infirmity … I learned so much from her. We had such a fun summer. She really was my motivation to consider occupational therapy as a ministry.

In 1984, at the age of sixty-nine, Sister Dorothy traveled to Kenya, West Africa, where she ministered for two years in a teacher formation program with the Assumption Sisters, a poor Kenyan congregation. She wrote of their simple life and hospitality: “Although they have very little, they share the little they have.”

When she returned home, she served a year as activities director at the Motherhouse in Adrian, then moved to Rocky Creek Retirement Village in Tampa, Florida, for nine years. While there, she served for a short time at St. Joseph Hospital in a pastoral capacity. She moved to Barry Villa in Miami as coordinator for two years, then returned to Rocky Creek Village for six years. The death of Sister Dolores Marie in 2000 left a great void in her life.

Sister Dorothy returned to Adrian in 2001, and resided at the Maria residence of the Dominican Life Center, where death came to her in 2006.

The wake-remembrance service for Sister Dorothy was held in St. Catherine Chapel on May 23. Sister Joan Sustersic, Prioress of Holy Rosary Mission Chapter, extended sympathy and welcome to Sister’s brother Jim and his wife Mildred, to her sisters Irene Marchewitz and Agnes Greco, to several nieces and nephews, and to her many Dominican friends. Sister Joan summarized Sister Dorothy’s life and ministry, and spoke of her final years.

As she grew older, she longed for more quiet time alone with God … In her biography, she listed her ailments: osteoporosis, arthritis, high blood pressure, hearing loss, glaucoma, and memory loss. In July 2005, she fell and suffered a broken hip. Already confused, this added to the confusion … During the past several days, her condition declined. God called her, and she went very peacefully.

Sister Mary Alice Naour told a story that illustrated Sister Dorothy’s artistic way of looking at people.

Sister Dorothy had been downstairs in her wheelchair and had listened to Mass. At the time, Father George was with us. Sister Dorothy said to me, “Sister, did you see that? His hands — they’re beautiful! The light shines from his hands!” He did have beautiful hands with long fingernails … She said, “He’s a holy man!” …
I usually don’t remember stories, but that one I won’t forget!

Sister Carleen Maly said, “I believe graciousness and hospitality are words that fit Sister Dorothy … She never seemed to be able to be as gracious and hospitable as she thought she should be … But she was very effective in reaching others.”

Sister Dorothy’s sister, Irene Manchewitz, thanked the Congregation for the care and love given to Sister Dorothy.

Sister Dorothy’s funeral liturgy took place on March 24. Father Roland Calvert, OSFS, was the presider and homilist. Father called to the attention of those assembled Sister Dorothy’s seventy-three years of ministry as an Adrian Dominican, and the very deep way in which she touched the lives of her students and friends. “She loved the image of God as the Divine Artist. We are reminded, also, that each one of us is God’s work of art, slowly being shaped into the person God calls us to be.”

On May 21, 2006, Sister Dorothy had attained the personhood she was meant to reach, and the Divine Artist took her to eternity. There she is reunited with her beloved sister, parents, and the others who have preceded her. She will be much missed here, but the beautiful creative work that she leaves us will keep her memory alive.