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Thanks Sister Dolorita, wherever you are

Mike Hillman

One of the nicer aspects of running a community web site like www.emmitsburg.net, is the opportunity it offers me to work closely with people I would normally only have a passing acquaintance with.

While the last three years have been demanding as the site grew from just a handful of web pages to its present size of over 4,500 pages, it's nevertheless been an enjoyable, and sometime downright humorous time. If I had to pick the most enjoyable time, it clearly would be working with the Daughters of Charity on their Seton Shrineís web site.

Having had my head banged against the chalkboard by more then one nun during my 16 years of Catholic schooling, Iíll admit, I didnít have the greatest fondness for Sisters ... every time I saw one, I would flashback to 7th grade and Sister Dolorita who seemed to relish in grabbing my ear at every opportunity ... Iím sure I deserved it, but why ruin a good flashback with the truth ...

Unlike my memories of Sister Dolorita, the Sisters at the Provincial house were downright saintly. And like saints, they are willing to make due with what ever they have, and that I quickly discover, included computers so old that only the nightly prayers keep them going.

I was particularly impressed by the tenacity of one very, very old sister, who I came across hard at work translating a book using a computer running Windows 3.0 and a 13 inch monitor. I was awed. It had been years since I had last seen a working version of Windows 3.0, let alone a monitor so small.

To make matters worse, her eyesight appeared to be so poor, that the lettering on the screen had to be so large that only half the width of the page showed at any one time. Which might have been bearable had the background been white and she had a mouse, but it wasnít and she didnít.

Instead the background was a dark gray, which made the black letters hard for even me to see. And to move around the screen, she painstakingly and methodically taped the arrow keys. As I watched her, I couldnít help but think of monks in the middle ages who would spend their life time copying a single book ...

"Sister," I said, " Is there any reason the background of your page is dark?"

"No," She replied sheepishly, ĎItís always been that way."

"Would you like it to be white? That would make the letters easier to read." I replied.

"Oh that would be very nice."

It took me a while to figure out how tweak the system, but with the help of the Smithsonian museum, I soon had the colors set right.

The sister sat and nodded approvingly. Then asked: "Is there any way you can make the letters smaller?"

"Smaller?" I said, "Forgive me sister, but thought you needed the larger print just to read it."

"Oh no," She replied, "my eyesight is as good as a the day I was born ..."

"Then why are the letters that larger," I asked.

"I donít know, thatís the way its always been," she answered.

"Forgive my for asking, but how long is Ďalwaysí?" I asked.

"Itís been like this for four years," she replied mater of factually.

I was floored. Only a saint in the making would have put up with those conditions for so long and never complain.

Alas one can only do so much with a 13 inch monitor, so I began to cast about for a larger monitor. All my inquires however led to dead ends. There were none in the entire house not in use ... or so I was told.

"What about the 17 inch monitor I saw up in the conference room? It doesnít look like it in use." I asked.

My escorts went quite and smiled at each other. "We canít take it ... weíre ĎBlue Skirtsí, but ..."

They didnít have to say anything more. Just like in the corporate world, sometimes it takes an outsider to get management to do what the staff has been telling them to do ...

"Blue Skirts!" I would never have believed it had I not heard them say it. I wondered if they called the sisters in upper management "White Skirts ..."

But I digress ...

With my "Blue Skirted" culprits in crime in tow, I dashed into the conference room and unhooked the monitor and had it set up and running in front of the now thoroughly delighted sister, before its owner could track us down.

"Oh thank you sister for lending my your monitor," bubbled the old sister as the former owner rushed into the room. "Now that I can see the whole page at once, my work will go much faster now."

I wasnít sure if it was the "God Bless you" that she closed with, or the happy look on her old, worn face, but any thought of reclaiming the monitor was quickly forgotten, and our theft forgiven.

My "Blue Skirted" escorts barely hid their giggles ...

"OK, now lets get you a mouse ..."

"Mouse? Weíre not allowed to have any pets, but thank you for offering me one."

"No, sister, I mean a mouse, a computer mouse ..."

"Have they trained mouses to work with computers? My Oh my, what will they think of next? But I still canít have one, it is against the rules ..."

It took me a while, but I finally got the idea across, and the old sister, hands wracked with by arthritis, warmed quickly to using it.

As I drove home that night, I found myself reflecting on how patient that old sister was, and that I, and others could learn much from her example. In todayís world of instant gratification itís often hard to remember good thing always take time, and always take work. And yes, sometimes you have to suffer, and grin and bear it, till someone notices you, but its always worth it in the end.

I was also impressed at how quickly and willing she adapted. Too often today we hear the excuse "Iím too old to change," or "its always been that way, so why bother to change it." Those that echo those words always lose out. Life is about change. Its about learning. But more important, its about helping and learning from each other.

That wonderful old, old sister could have easily been a Sister Dolorita back in her heyday, pounding heads of wayward young boys like myself into blackboards ... upon reflection, it occurred to me that Sister Dolorita did get my attention, and in doing so set me on a straight and narrow course. For that I am grateful. Too bad it took me 30 years to finally understand, but as my new best friend the old sister said: "better late then never."

No its my turn to return the favor ...

Thanks Sister Dolorita, wherever you are ... and thanks to all Sisters - everywhere

Read other stories by Michael Hillman