Sister Dorothy Beach, SNDdeN
July 25, 1921 – October 12, 2021
“Above all, cultivate the spirit of order everywhere, even in the smallest things. By being faithful in little things, we succeed little by little in being faithful in great things.”
(Letter 383, Saint Julie Billiart, Foundress, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur)
Ellen Dorothy Beach was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. Her father was a career Army officer, so her childhood saw the family moving frequently. Dorothy once said some of her earliest memories were of moving. Once she started school there was one thing that did not change: she attended Catholic schools no matter where the family lived. Her father was not Catholic, but he had promised her mother and the Church that he would see to it she received a Catholic Education. By the time Dorothy finished secondary school, she had attended nine different schools run by eight different religious congregations. She enrolled at Trinity College, Washington, D. C. in 1939. For the first time in her life, she was in one place for four years. That alone was an impressive experience for her.
Dorothy was also greatly impressed by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who operated Trinity. Vague ideas about religious life gradually began to take focus in her mind and heart. This was difficult for her parents. Dorothy was an only child and they had other expectations for her future. By the time she graduated from Trinity, world events influenced Dorothy’s decision to wait a while before she entered. The United States was heavily involved in World War II, and it was natural for a child raised with military influences to look for a way to help the war effort. Dorothy wanted to serve, but she did not think it would be a good idea to serve in the army as her father did. He agreed and supported her decision to enlist in the female section of the U.S. Naval Reserve known as the WAVES.
After a short period of initial training, Dorothy was assigned to work in Washington, D.C. She lived with other young women and would look back on her time in the WAVES with good memories and wonderful stories. When the war was over, however, Dorothy still felt called to life as a Sister of Notre Dame. With her parents support, she entered the community at Ilchester, Maryland the summer of 1946. With other young women who entered at the same time, Dorothy prepared to teach. She appreciated the regularity of schedule, the simplicity of the lifestyle and the comradery of community life. Dorothy received the name Sister Francis Mary as a novice, and that was how she was known until 1968 when she resumed her baptismal name Dorothy.
Being experienced at moving came in handy for Dorothy from early 1949 to September of 1950. She had completed college before entering the community, so when a teacher was suddenly needed at Notre Dame High School, Wyncote, Pennsylvania, Dorothy was sent to fill the vacancy even though she was still a novice. She returned to Ilchester to profess her vows and then served at both Notre Dame High School, Moylan, Pennsylvania and at West Catholic High School in Philadelphia before being missioned to Trinity College in 1950. Her mission to Trinity was two-fold: she was to be Assistant Librarian and she was to study Library Science at Catholic University. Dorothy would spend 35 years in the Trinity Library where she became head librarian in 1972. She loved her years at Trinity. Recently she shared, “My assignment to Trinity College was such an honor for me. The founders had so much courage and foresight to open a women’s college when it was so needed. I continue to be in awe of those founding Sisters.”
In 1985, Dorothy went to Rome as librarian for the graduate house of the North American College where diocesan priests from the United States were sent to study for advanced degrees. She became friend and mentor to many of the priests who passed through the North American College during her six years there. The priests valued her presence, incorporated her into outings, and with them Dorothy enjoyed many lively conversations. She felt that part of her ministry there was accompanying these young men on a journey to a deeper understanding of their own vocations. Dorothy also loved living it Europe. She appreciated the chance to meet SNDs from all over the Notre Dame world who came to Rome for various reasons. Dorothy especially appreciated the opportunity to spend her summer vacations with the Notre Dame community in Oxford, England and the chance to get to know so many of the British Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
In 1991, Dorothy returned to the United States and was asked to serve as Archivist for the Maryland Unit of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. She again became a part of the Trinity Community which had been home to her for 35 years before going Rome and commuted to Ilchester to work. One of Dorothy’s conditions for saying “yes” to this new ministry was being able to visit the Ohio Unit Archives. She came to Mt. Notre Dame for a whole week. To her great frustration, she saw only the Ohio Unit Museum and never the Archives. Dorothy had no interest in starting a Museum in Maryland. She was excellent at keeping the boundaries in place on her job description and on the archival holdings for which she was responsible. Her organization of records was consistent and meticulous, creating collections that remain a joy with which to work. When the Maryland Offices moved from Ilchester to Villa Julie, Dorothy was equally meticulous in setting up the Archive area at Villa Julie. She continued commuting to work until she asked to be replaced in 2001.
Even though she was in her 80th year, Dorothy did not retire in 2001. Instead, she returned to the Trinity College Library as a volunteer. It wasn’t until 2006, as library practices began to change radically, and mobility started to become difficult for her, that Dorothy “retired” to spend her days in community service and prayer. In 2010 she joined the Health Center Community at Mt. Notre Dame in Cincinnati, Ohio where she continued her ministry of prayer and presence. Dorothy described years at Mt. Notre Dame as years filled with peace, joy, rest and contentment.
As Dorothy marked her 70th and 75th anniversary as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, she expressed deep gratitude for the challenges and opportunities of the wonderful journey of her life, and especially for those who were with her on the way. She saw her different ministries, the Sisters, students, coworkers and friends she came to know as gift. In 2016 she said, “Jubilees are a celebration of God’s goodness and his countless blessings. In my 70 years in Notre Dame these many blessings have come to me, both in the people I have met and in the places I have been. Seventy years of service to God – what a blessing to me! Praise to the Good God!” In 2021 Dorothy said, “As I reflect upon 75 years as a Sister of Notre Dame and my approaching 100th birthday I realized just how blessed I am for the many people who have entered my life. And I give thanks. God is so Good!”
Dorothy did not want a lot of fuss and bother made about either her 100th birthday or her 75th jubilee. But she let us fuss a little. Her community is grateful they had the chance to celebrate her jubilee just a week before she died. As we now gather to celebrate her life, we give thanks for the gift she has been to us, and for the many ways she made God’s goodness known to so many people in so many places. We echo Saint Julie’s thoughts: “My God what thanksgiving can repay so many blessings?” (Letter 402, Saint Julie Billiart) Indeed, our God is so very, very Good!
- Born July 25, 1921 in Brookline, Massachusetts
- Parents: William A. Beach (born in New Albany, Indiana) and Marian R. Maxey (born in Highland Falls, New York)
- Baptized on November 18, 1921 at St. Aidan’s Catholic Church, Brookline, Massachusetts
- Confirmed on May 11, 1931 at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Washington, District of Columbia
- Entered on July 2, 1946 at Ilchester, Maryland
- First Profession: April 2, 1949
- Final Profession: July 31, 1954
- A.B. in English from Trinity College, Washington, D.C. 1943
- M.A. in Library Sciences from Catholic University, Washington, D.C. 1952
- M.A. in Medieval History from Catholic University, Washington D.C. 1962
- 4/1/1949-8/1/1949 Notre Dame High School, Moylan, Pennsylvania
- 9/1/1949-2/1/1950 West Catholic Girls High School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- 1950-1972 Assistant Librarian, Trinity College, Washington, District of Columbia
- 1972-1985 Librarian, Trinity College, Washington, District of Columbia
- 1985-1991 Librarian, Graduate Department, North American College, Rome, Italy
- 1991-2001 Province Archivist, Ilchester and Stevenson, Maryland
- 2001-2007 Library Volunteer, Trinity College, Washington, District of Columbia
- 2007-2010 Community Service and Ministry of Prayer, Trinity College, Washington, District of Columbia
- 2010-2021 Ministry of Prayer and Presence, Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
Died: October 12, 2021
Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
October 15, 2021