By Joe Lee
MADISON – Growing up an hour from Chicago, Illinois, long, cold winters were a way of life for Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth as well as an opportunity to enjoy sports that most Mississippians may never experience.
“We went ice skating, sledding and snowmobiling,” said Sister Dorothea, a registered dietician and a 2017 recipient of the Catholic Health Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her ministry at St. Dominic Health Services. “Later, I snow skied in Utah and Colorado when meetings would take me to that part of the country. I’ve gone dog sledding out there.”
The broken neck Sister Dorothea suffered on Palm Sunday in 2015 brought an end to the sledding and snowmobiling the beloved Dominican Sister still enjoyed by then, but in no way did it put a stop to her desire to remain active.
“My broken neck wasn’t from skiing or dog sledding,” she said. “I was at the chapel at St. Catherine’s Village. I got out of a chair, lost my balance, fell back and hit my neck on the back of a padded chair. I had no pain when I stood, but as I drove back to the convent, I felt a lump in my throat and decided to go to the E.R. and have it checked out.”
Sister Dorothea, as she would learn, had torn a ligament in her neck. She had surgery that night and left the hospital the next morning wearing a neck brace.
“I didn’t need rehab, and I thank God and the doctor for the surgery,” she said. “It was a miracle. I had an assistant whose mother is a paraplegic after being injured in a tornado. Another assistant, when I was a dietician, was broadsided in a car accident and died from a broken neck. I said, ‘The Lord has something for me to do.’”
There would be no more snowmobiling, no more daydreams of skydiving. But Sister Dorothea remains active to this day, walking often and gardening the lovely expanse behind the convent every chance she gets. She’s quick to offer gentle encouragement to those who find it difficult to cope with the aging process.
“I was not depressed. It was the reality of it,” she said of the Palm Sunday fall. “I knew God had intervened. God has plans. There’s a reason for everything. We’re not as young as we used to be, and when I’m asked by people, ‘You’re really still working?’, I say, ‘I’d rather wear out than rust out.’
“My mantra is to have everything in your life in balance, everything in moderation. Good exercise, good nutrition, good rest and prayer.”