Sister Gladys Dombek, CSC

(March 16, 1920 - April 19, 2013)

Word has been received of the death of Sister M. Gladys (Dombek), who died at 3:20 p.m. on Friday, April 19, 2013, in Saint Mary's Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana.

Sister Gladys was often thought of as a quiet and retiring person, gracious but not outgoing. However, the saying, “Still waters run deep,” aptly describes her because she had depths of understanding and dedication that the casual acquaintance easily could miss. Once she entered the congregation and began teaching, Sister Gladys gave her whole heart to this ministry and her many loyal students attest to this dedication. She made a deep and lasting impression on those fortunate enough to sit at a desk in her classroom.

Teaching was her life and Sister Gladys loved all the tasks related to this calling. Being intensely devoted to minutiae, she spent endless hours correcting her students’ assignments. Whether it was a set of papers from her first-graders, eighth-graders or any grade in between, each received her full attention and thoughtfulness. The results of this commitment to correcting the smallest error were students who became focused on accuracy and detail, a skill that has always been admired but is even more critical in today’s world of technology. Because of the thorough training her students received in her 40-plus years in the classroom, many attained a great level of success and are now eager to give her gratitude and praise.

Sister Gladys loved every aspect of teaching, but there were two areas that were especially important to her and gave her a sense of profound gratitude. The first was preparing youngsters to receive the sacraments of penance and first Communion (reconciliation and the holy Eucharist); the second was providing her little first-graders with the skill and power to read. She always rejoiced in the success of her students, whether from a current class or those who had graduated. Sister Gladys followed their progress and kept in touch with numerous former students and their parents.

Even after leaving the formal classroom setting, Sister Gladys continued to do what she loved best — teach. She tutored students who needed special help and also took over the administration of the school library in a number of Midwestern schools where she was assigned. Once she retired to Saint Mary’s, she continued to do what she loved when she became involved in the tutoring program established for the employees and their children. This program enlists the teaching skills of the retired sisters, and Sister Gladys was eager to engage in this challenging but rewarding ministry. One of her many success stories is that of a Bosnian employee who, under sister’s guidance, not only improved her English skills but was able to complete the naturalization process.

The simplicity of Sister Gladys is a reflection of her upbringing on the family farm, where she and her four brothers helped with all the chores. She spoke of Grandmother Dombek, who “lived in town,” with special affection. She loved visiting there, and it was her grandmother’s model of Christian prayer and devotion that planted the seed of her own spirituality. Sister Gladys related how the two of them would kneel before the little statue of Mary to pray the rosary and other devotional prayers in the evening. It was one of her fondest memories.

After high school Sister Gladys went on to earn a teaching certificate in Minnesota and taught for three years in rural schools there before moving to Washington, D.C., in 1942. She worked as a typist in a government office and took advantage of her time to visit many of the historical sites of the city. It was during this time that she felt drawn toward religious life. She confided this to Msgr. Louis Milenberger of St. Martin’s parish in Washington, D.C., who was a great friend of Holy Cross and directed many young women to the community. Father suggested she meet with Sister John Frederick, CSC, at Dunbarton College and the rest is history. Sister Gladys entered the novitiate in 1944.

Sister Gladys’ gracious manner stayed with her her entire life. Even the nurses and aides who were her caregivers remarked on her graciousness and said her beautiful smile was a reward for any service given. Each day when she was brought down to the church in her wheelchair, Sister Gladys would turn to the sister next to her, gently place her hand on that sister’s arm and offer a greeting with that famous smile.

Few knew of Sister Gladys’ poetic ability. However, when Sister Judith McKenna, CSC, was here at Saint Mary’s, Sister Gladys gave her a copy of a poem she had written years ago titled “Mystery.” It is fitting evidence of the spiritual depth of this dedicated religious.

I cannot grasp with intellect
or sense
The mystery of the One
who dwells within;
Nor can I understand God's immanence.
All creation speaks to me
of God's enduring presence.

I can only know the mystery by faith,
Living it by loving God and others.
And when God calls me Home,
then I will see
How all the good I thought I did
God really did through me.

May Sister Gladys rest in peace.


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