Sister Phyllis Dugan SNDdeN
November 3, 1927 – October 22, 2018
Like Mary whose name we bear, we are called to hear the word of God and keep it.
(Constitutions &Directory of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, #47)
Mary Phyllis Dugan believed it was her mother’s act of consecrating her to Our Lady on the day of Phyllis’ baptism that started her on the path to religious life. It certainly was the reason she wore blue and white until she seven years old. The only child of Irish Catholic parents, Phyllis grew up in Columbus, Ohio with cousins nearby who were her substitute siblings and a source of joy throughout her life. She attended Holy Name Parish School, where the Dominican Sisters were her teachers, and later St. Joseph Academy, where she met the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Phyllis immediately noticed differences between the Dominican and Notre Dame habits, but it was deeper differences that drew her to ask to enter Notre Dame after her graduation. Her parents found Phyllis’ choice hard. Her mother doubted she had a vocation but if she did, couldn’t it be to the Dominicans so she could visit regularly as well as live and minister only in Columbus? Her father simply cried. He became a regular visitor to the Notre Dame community at Maryhurst after Phyllis entered. The Sisters there helped him slowly come to peace with Phyllis’ decision.
The Sisters thought it would be easier on Mr. & Mrs. Dugan if Phyllis said good-bye to them in Columbus and took the train to Cincinnati on her own. That’s exactly what she did. Phyllis arrived at the station nearest to Mt. Notre Dame only to find it closed and no one there. She was thinking, “This must be the will of God! I’ll take the next train and go back home…” when a car pulled up and one of the Sisters she knew from Columbus emerged to greet her. The next day the bells of the city started ringing wildly and the Postulants joined the rest of the community in chapel for a prayer of joyful thanksgiving. Phyllis thought, “Boy! They’re happy to get us!” While the Sisters were happy to receive Phyllis and her band, they were really celebrating the end of World War II. Phyllis quickly made friends with other members of her band and in spite of her mischievousness and tendency to regularly catch and tear her habit, she professed her vows as Sister Mary Regina.
Sister Mary Regina began preparing to teach high school. After one year of study she was approached by the Provincial one morning and asked, “Do you want to teach?” “Oh, yes!” she replied. Sister Mary Regina was immediately sent to the Summit Boys School where, she said, two experienced Sisters took her under their wings and “taught me how to teach.” Sister Mary Regina was happy she started out in grade school, where she learned the methods of lesson planning and classroom management that served her well through all of her years in formal education.
After seven years at the elementary level, Sister Mary Regina was assigned to the high school level where she taught Latin, Religion and English for the next fifteen years. Her students saw her as an excellent teacher and, when needed, as someone who would listen and respond compassionately. Sister Mary Regina’s experiences of listening led her to advocate strongly for Sisters to be trained as guidance counselors. She considered retraining as a counselor, or for the work of educational TV or radio, before she was asked to move into administration. By 1972, Phyllis had returned to her baptismal name and was assigned as principal of Notre Dame High School in Chicago.
Phyllis decided before moving to Chicago that she would live at a nearby community of SNDdeNs, not at the High School itself. She felt living at the High School would make it hard for the Sisters on staff to freely talk about school situations at home, and she herself knew she wouldn’t be happy living her work 24 hours a day. Living off site was a new idea, but it worked out well for all those involved as Phyllis adjusted to a new city, new archdiocese, and a new school twice the size of what she had previously experienced. At Notre Dame High School, Phyllis nurtured a spirit of cooperation, creativity and community. Her staff saw her as not just an administrator, but as a colleague. She encouraged new ideas and creativity. Just as Phyllis insisted her teachers help each student develop her gifts, so Phyllis encouraged her staff to develop their own gifts. In an era of school closings, she kept Notre Dame High School open and made it stronger. The diverse student body knew that in Phyllis they had a principal who would listen and find a way to help when they didn’t know where else to turn.
By 1982 Phyllis began wondering if there was another way her gifts could be used besides formal education. She was given a sabbatical year and opted for a program at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California. She loved the teachers and content, opting to take the courses for credit because she “didn’t want to miss anything.” At the end of the year, Phyllis returned to Chicago and joined the staff of the Office of Catholic Education. There she served as consultant to secondary schools of the Archdiocese, served on school evaluation teams for both the State of Illinois and the North Central Association, and acted as the representative to the Illinois Council of Churches for the Archdiocese of Chicago. In her free time, Phyllis finished the coursework for her Doctorate in Ministry. She would later joke, “I always wanted to teach Scripture or Religion. I never taught it, but I ended up with a doctorate in it.” In 1988 Phyllis accepted a position as Assistant Super-intendant for Secondary Education with the Diocese of Cleveland. Responsible for all of the high schools in the Diocese, she continued the ministry of education she loved while being close enough to Columbus to oversee the care of her aging mother.
Phyllis considered it a blessing to have been with her father when he died. She also considered it a blessing that Sisters living at Rich Street regularly visited her mother who lived in senior housing across the street. Mrs. Dugan did not want to go into a nursing home. Phyllis was grateful her mother had the resources to hire a caretaker who enabled her to live independently even as she grew frailer. Phyllis would spend weekends in Columbus with her mother, providing a break for the caretaker. When it became clear Mrs. Dugan would not live much longer, Phyllis was encouraged to move to Columbus and spend more time with her. She did just that and, with extra time on her hands, finished her doctoral dissertation. Phyllis remained in Columbus after her mother’s death and spent time with her beloved cousins who, as always, brought her great joy and comfort.
After her mother’s death Phyllis accepted a position as Director of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Columbus. Her responsibilities included working with the Diocesan Pastoral Council, regional councils and with individual parishes. At all levels she helped develop plans for evangelization, helped with ministry formation and facilitated planning processes for the future life of the local church. In the parishes her work included helping them move toward closing or merging. The work called on Phyllis’s gifts for listening and compassion as she helped the parishes move through painful situations. In 1999 the Bishop of Columbus recognized Phyllis for her “outstanding leadership and service” to the Diocese.
Her Sisters in community were very aware of her leadership abilities and willingness to serve. At various times Phyllis served on the Ohio Unit Leadership Team, the Mt. Notre Dame High School Board, the Ministry Task Force and Finance Board, and as a member of the Ohio Unit Assembly. A lover of learning, she participated in ongoing formation study days and programs for theological updating. Early in the process of the renewal of religious life, Phyllis advocated for the training of superiors to better prepare them to see each Sister as a person and to help each Sister grow in her individual potential. She also called for support to better equip the superiors to give spiritual aid and provide opportunities for relaxation to their communities to renew the Sisters for their work among God’s people. She knew the importance of relaxation in her own life. Phyllis enjoyed travelling to educational and community meetings. A trip to Calgary Canada in 1998 and Ireland in 1999 provided her with treasured memories. Phyllis was a great fan of the arts and enjoyed opera, classical music, good movies and good books. In her younger years she enjoyed bike riding and playing tennis. Throughout her life Phyllis loved “stimulating” conversations and spending time with good friends.
Phyllis was living in Columbus when she was first diagnosed with cancer. She was grateful to her cousins who offered to care for her if she stayed in Columbus, but Phyllis knew she needed to be close to her Sisters. She moved to Mount Notre Dame Health Center and, with the care and support of the Sisters and staff, became well enough and strong enough to join the Julie Community. She participated in community life for nine years before illness sent her back to the care of the Health Center. In 2015 Phyllis said, “I’m grateful for all the Sisters have meant to me in my lifetime…I’ve had some wonderful people living with me and living with Him and it’s been a wonderful experience…” Of life in the Health Center she said, “It’s just a wonderful, wonderful place to be and live.” There Phyllis was encouraged to take the support and care she needed and give what she could in her participation, prayer and presence. Throughout her life Phyllis found a “real joy in serving people.” In each of her ministries, and in each of the communities in which she lived, she encountered wonderful people. That’s what she remembered most. As she said, “It’s the people I have met and talked to, not the jobs I held, not the books I read, but the people.” We thank God for the gift Phyllis has been to her Sisters, family, friends, and all those whose lives she touched as she lived the Notre Dame mission of making known God’s Goodness. We rejoice with Phyllis and join her in praying the words of Our Lady: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Luke 1:46-47)
Born November 3, 1927 in Columbus, Ohio
Parents: Patrick V. Dugan (born in Seaforth, Ontario, Canada) and Regina Nunan (born in Roanoke, Virginia)
Baptized November 20, 1927 at Holy Name Church in Columbus, Ohio
Entered August 14, 1945 at Mt. Notre Dame
First Profession: January 24, 1948
Final Profession: August 13, 1953
St. Joseph Academy, Columbus, Ohio, 1945
Bachelor of Arts in Latin from Our Lady of Cincinnati College, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1957
Master of Arts in English from the University of Detroit, Detroit, Michigan, 1964
Educational Specialist in Administration, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, 1972
Doctorate of Ministry, McCormick Seminary, Chicago, Illinois, 1994
1949-1952 Summit Country Day School, Cincinnati, Ohio
1952-1953 Holy Cross School, Columbus, Ohio
1953-1956 St. James School, Wyoming, Ohio
1956-1962 Julienne High School, Dayton, Ohio
1962-1971 Mt. Notre Dame High School, Reading, Ohio
1971-1972 Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana
1972-1982 Notre Dame High School, Chicago, Illinois
1982-1983 Jesuit School of Theology, Berkley, CA
1983-1988 Consultant, Office of Catholic Education, Archdiocese of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
1988-1993 Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education, Diocese of Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio
1993-2001 Director of Pastoral Services, Diocese of Columbus, Columbus, Ohio
2002 Sabbatical, Columbus, Ohio
2002-2014 Community Service, Mt. Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
November 2014-present Ministry of Prayer, Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
Died: October 22, 2018
Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
October 23, 2018