The celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life continues as Sr. Dorothy Louise shares her vocation story:

IMG_1263Since I was born on Good Friday, my family considered me special and named me “Dorothy” which means “gift of God.”  I was the youngest of four girls and three boys born to Eastern European immigrant parents in the little Western Pennsylvania mining town of Patton.  We were blessed to have a Byzantine Catholic Church there.  I was baptized by Father Stephen Loya, surrounded by loving family and parishioners. Today I am the last surviving member of my immediate family.

I attended public schools, enjoyed sports and played the trombone in the band. I learned my catechism from two of my school teachers, Ann and Mary Homyak, who also were our parish catechists. SS. Peter and Paul Church was the hub of activity for us.  As a teen I helped there in any way I could, singing in the choir, teaching catechism, helping at dinners. Everything there reinforced my parents’ lessons about loving the Lord and trusting in His Divine Providence for our lives.  I was still young when I learned about prayer, love, forgiveness, cleanliness and a sense of responsibility. Such was life in the Balock family.

It was during my high school years that I felt the call to religious life, though I had not yet met a Sister.  Sometime after I experienced this call, Sisters from Mount St. Macrina came to Patton to solicit funds and they encouraged me. I attended my first Pilgrimage that year and was very impressed. However, being the youngest and the last to live at home with my aging parents, I assumed the responsibility of caring for them.

The picture changed when, a few months after graduation from high school, God took back to Himself rather suddenly: first my mother in December, and then my father the following April. The sudden losses were somewhat devastating to me, but through the support of my family, the Homyak sisters and parishioners and friends, I was able to see God’s hand in it all.  They encouraged me, as that September I responded to God’s call and entered the Order of St. Basil the Great in Uniontown, where I was given the name Sister Joachim. This started me on the road to doing many more things than I ever expected to do, and I don’t regret any of them.

My first ministry was teaching, mostly at the junior high level.  I found myself imitating the strict but kind style the Homyak sisters used – and it worked well.  I was also a principal for some of those years. Later I was elected to serve on the leadership team for five years and enjoyed living at the Mount.

A new path opened for me at that point that would affect the rest of my life.  I took courses to be certified as the Administrator of Mount Macrina Manor Nursing Home and served in this capacity for the next 17 years.  This brought me into daily contact with the elderly and the sick – just the work I thought I would be doing with my own parents.  I found that I loved being with older people, listening to their wisdom, supporting them in their time of suffering. The environment involved pain and suffering, some of it beyond relief, but I found that a listening heart, a compassionate touch, a reminder of God’s love and forgiveness seemed to make their passing into a new life somewhat easier. This time also involved sharing the pain of families in grief.  They taught me so much.

After the administrative role, I took a year of sabbatical; I spent half of it caring for my own blood sister after back surgery, and the other half in spiritual renewal experiences.  Formal training in pastoral care followed; since then I have been involved in ministry to the dying and to their families.  I worked at the best local hospice agency; it was later incorporated into the national firm known as Amedisys. Little did I know how intensely I would live this experience, for a short time later, I was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to undergo chemotherapy and later a bone marrow transplant.  Many tests, treatments and procedures were necessary before I made some progress. My community and my co-workers, my nieces and nephews supported me through this and I returned to serving others, now equipped with a better understanding of those who were suffering.  Unfortunately, the symptoms returned and I again underwent chemotherapy – that is, until I was further set back by a severe case of pneumonia.

Coming back from all of this required a long time, much patience, prayer and lots of help from my Sisters, my family and friends.  One introduced me to Barbara Johnson’s book Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy, which encouraged me.  I did just that.  I walked around for months wearing a neat hat with a big geranium sticking out of it.  It cheered me and those around me as well. I learned so very much in this time, especially a deeper trust in the Lord.   My love for nature, animals, and music also helped me so much then and also when I later underwent surgery for breast cancer.

More recently, when my physical strength declined, I became a volunteer for Amedisys Hospice and Home Care (instead of an employee).   I favored spreading devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help to the sick.  I prayed and sang with them, read scripture or played Christian music.  One daughter wrote to tell me how much her mother was changed by my visits, even though when I first started visiting her – during her favorite soap opera – she wasn’t very pleased. It was so gratifying to prepare many souls to joyously meet the Living God of Love.

In 2010 I was pleasantly surprised when I was named the Amedisys Volunteer of the Year.  The company flew me and a companion to New Orleans for the first phase and then later to the national convention in Orlando for the presentation of a plaque.  It was exciting and so much fun.

Much of my inspiration comes from the quote from Isaiah 43: “I have called you by name and you are mine.”  It helps me have an ‘attitude of gratitude’ – counting your blessings takes one across the valleys of life and builds confidence in God’s goodness, I have learned.  I like to say “God is with us!” –  how could I not after all the ways I have experienced his care and seen his mercy poured out upon myself and upon person after person?