Sr. Eleanor Dooley

It is a blessing to be in the company of our tour leader, Sister Eleanor Dooley. She is a force of nature, if not a saint or a mystic!

Sister Eleanor received her doctorate from the Sorbonne here in Paris, so this is her old playground. She has boundless energy, and knows everything about everything here! We are continually shaking our heads in disbelief at her knowledge and ability to teach us, many of whom are teachers. She is truly amazing.

Eleanor Dooley, SSJ, graduated from Elms College in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in French and Latin. She went on to earn a master’s in French literature from Assumption College in Worcester, a master’s in applied spirituality at the University of San Francisco, and an M.T.S. degree in Technological Studies from Harvard University Divinity School. She received a doctorate degree from the University of Paris (Sorbonne).

Sister Eleanor has distinguished herself in the teaching of French literature, Latin, and theology for half a century. She recently retired as a faculty member at Elms College, where she taught for 34 years. She was chair of the Department of French Literature, the Department of Religious Studies, and the Humanities Division during her time at Elms. She was commencement speaker at the Elms College graduation in 1993, and received the college’s distinguished alumna award in 1997 and an honorary doctor of theology degree in 2004. She currently teaches one religious studies course a semester at Elms College, teaches Latin to the elementary school children at Holy Name School, and lectures nationally and internationally.

She has shared her expertise in the graduate programs of the University of San Francisco, Fundan University in Shanghai, China, and Harvard University. She taught for 15 years as adjunct professor of Theological French at Harvard Divinity School.

She served as a council member in central administration of the Sisters of St. Joseph for eight years, and served as the congregation’s representative to Kenya. Sister Eleanor also works on behalf of the Catholic Church in China and Haiti. She worked with the poor for two years in India, including time spent working with Mother Theresa, and has studied and taught in Israel, Nepal, Africa, Australia, Costa Rica, France, England, Germany, China, Switzerland, and Russia. She has lectured widely in the areas of theology and spirituality, both nationally and internationally.

Sister Eleanor has served as a board member of the Interfaith Council of Springfield, the Massachusetts Commission on Christian Unity, and the Holocaust Education and Resource Center of Western Massachusetts.

Sister Eleanor was recently celebrated as a faculty emerita at Elms College, and here is the introduction given for her at that ceremony by her colleague Martin Pion.

Eleanor Dooley, faculty emerita, professor of French literature and language, Latin, Religious Studies and Theology, mentor and friend to thousands and still she adds to the list of devotees. Her teaching includes major ‘gigs’ in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, the Indian sub-continent and assorted islands on the planet. The most important one is her beloved Our Lady of the Elms. She is always the picture of calm confidence, competence and grace even under pressure. She has negotiated the ambiguities of being a woman religious teaching religious studies in the People’s Republic of China despite careful party scrutiny of such persons and activities. Closer to home, she spent many summers teaching theological French to Christians, Buddhists, and Jews at Harvard Divinity School.

Sr. Eleanor challenges conventional ideas about the spiritual life and what it means to be a vowed religious. She accomplishes this without ever doing anything obtrusive. She doesn’t even do it intentionally. She says things like, “the last time I spoke to the Bishop of Shanghai,” or “When I was on the train from Bombay with Fr. Bede Griffiths…” She quotes Rabindranath Tagore and Hildegard of Bingen in the same sentence. Wherever she goes she meets people she knows. She leads, she guides, she loves in a most unique and remarkable way. Her vows seem to have included a vow of mobility expressed in her love of travel which has led students and colleagues to new places. Many of her followers are certain that they can perceive her aura.

I speak in the present tense, because Eleanor remains active, teaching spirituality to deacon candidates, and ecclesiastical Latin to Elms students and Holy Name eighth graders. One of the hallmarks of her teaching is the ability to make her students feel bright and appreciated. We team-taught together for many years and I am still in awe of her skill at turning any answer into a profound insight that could lead to a special teaching moment for the entire class. Even when students say silly things, or even give patently wrong answers, she still works her magic. It often begins like this, “Why that is such an interesting insight. I sense you might be thinking about…” and then she goes on to make the most profound observations and ends by thanking the student for his/her contribution.

I don’t mean to suggest that Eleanor is flawless. Her immersion in the moment and the people around her leads to lost pocket books, credit cards jackets, papers and books. Last minute copying, typing and assemblage has been know to happen. In rare moments of stress she has been reduced to tears. However, it never affects her teaching. In seconds she is on topic and eloquent.

Sr. Eleanor is a PowerPoint presentation. She radiates faith and the goodness of God to everyone. Students encounter the absolute in her grace, wisdom and simplicity. Her love of theology is enhanced by her love of all things French. The reverse is also true. The stories of her years at the Universite de Paris are windows into the tumultuous ‘60’s encompassing the student riots, the politics of DeGaulle and the heady days of the Second Vatican Council when Fr. Yves Congar spoke to Parisian students on what was happening in Rome.

To me personally, Eleanor has been and remains a professional mentor, colleague and friend. The last is most important to me. It was Eleanor and her sister Mary who prodded me to pursue my dream of doctoral study and it was their boundless faith in me and optimism that motivated me to complete my terminal degree. Eleanor and Mary extended their sense of limitless possibility to my daughters Nicole, Julia and Anna. They all intuitively learned that women can be successful, independent and deeply spiritual despite what others might expect of women. What she has done for our family has been replicated many times. Eleanor, emerita status does not even come close to acknowledging what you are to this community. We cherish you and expect you to continue inspiring us well in to the future.

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