Remembrance of the Life of Sister Dolores Kelledy SL
The first words of Dolores Kelledy’s 1976 autobiography go right to the heart of the matter: “I became interested in the Sisters of Loretto while attending elementary school in the Sacred Heart Parish. The Lorettines there portrayed such a friendly spirit, both in the convent and in the school, that I choose to become one of them.”
Dolores was born into the thoroughly Catholic family of Harry Joseph and Ollie Borella Kelledy, in the thoroughly Catholic neighborhood of Sacred Heart Parish in the heart of St. Louis, where her father’s family operated a neighborhood bakery near the breweries and the city market. Her parents were both born in St. Louis in the last decade of the 1800s, when St. Louis was burgeoning with Catholic families and parishes. In Dolores’ time, Sacred Heart also boasted the families of Theresa and Margaret Kinealy, the Wilcox sisters, the Grawer sisters, Bernice Hys, and later the Clifford girls, all of whom also entered Loretto — as did Dolores’ own younger sister, Rosemarie, who became Sister Olivia.
Dolores and Rosemary Wilcox went from Sacred Heart to St. Alphonsus High School, with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, but as she wrote, “Rosemary and I graduated from Rock, and we both chose SL over SSND. Old Famous Barr was our shopping department. How we laughed when purchasing those long black stockings and black shoes that covered your whole foot. In Union Station, we met the postulants from Denver. We were surprised to see them still smoking their last cigarettes. Our “wanderings’ began together when we heard the conductor call ‘Loretto Station.”
That first train ride to Loretto was on Oct. 14, 1944. Dolores became Sister Dolores on April 25, 1945, a date she was eager to celebrate with friends and family and novitiate classmates on her 75th jubilee this year. It was with deep disappointment that she accepted the changes the COVID-19 virus introduced into all our lives.
From the novitiate Sister Dolores made many train trips to a long series of elementary school missions. From 1947 to 1970 she taught in the parochial schools of Denver, Louisville and then St. Louis. Her favorite class was second grade. She particularly enjoyed preparing youngsters for First Communion. In 1970, following five years as teacher, principal and local superior at St. Paul the Apostle, in suburban St. Louis, Dolores and her friend from Denver days, Sister Ann Johnson, began a new ministry in the St. Louis Public Schools in traditionally black neighborhoods.
Dolores had many stories, some touching, some funny and some distressing about this 24-year venture: She wrote, “[In 1970,] the Congregation was permitting individuals to experiment in lifestyles outside a parish. This sounded interesting, so I applied for a position in the St. Louis Public Schools in order to finance my living expenses and contribute to the Congregation. … It is difficult work, adjusting to a black culture and values, but I would like to continue in it for as long as God gives me the mental and physical strength.” In an unrecorded interview, Dolores described to me her one goal: to create within the walls of her classroom an environment of quiet support and encouragement, where young children would find sure direction, experience success, and know they were each valued — no matter what was going on in other classrooms, on the playground, or in their homes. For both Dolores and Ann Johnson, the welcome they created in their classrooms was a necessary oasis for their young students. They spent their own money and raised funds and gathered supplies from other Loretto sisters to use for their children. They demanded improvements of their principals and the superintendent, and crossed picket lines to continue teaching when other teachers went out on strike.
Dolores taught elementary age children for 57 years. After the public schools she returned to the parochial system in suburban St. Louis, teaching, tutoring, serving as a teacher’s aide and office clerk and volunteering for another 18 years. For eight of those years, she also worked as a greeter at Kutis Funeral Home for six hours two or three nights a
week. She called that “the easiest job I ever had.” But she and Ann Johnson enjoyed another easy job: for years the two spent their summers in Denver, house sitting for acquaintances. They entertained Loretto gatherings during their summer tenure; and they welcomed the owners back to a house thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom.
When Loretto Center closed, among the household articles that were shipped to the Motherhouse were boxes labeled “Sister Dolores’ table decorations.” By that time Dolores was at the Motherhouse to receive the boxes. From the time she arrived in 2012 to just months before her death Dolores could be found at all hours of the day quietly preparing table decorations and flowers and spot cleaning tablecloths.
Dolores recalled how often as a grade school girl at Sacred Heart she and her friends would spend late afternoons and Saturdays at the Loretto convent, helping the sisters prepare for feast days or jubilee celebrations. She did the same for Loretto wherever she lived. For those of us who have known and lived with Dolores Kelledy, it is the easiest thing to imagine her as a greeter — at the door of her classroom, behind her desk as principal, in the convent dining room, in the home she made with Ann and at the St Louis Center. Surely she will welcome each of the Loretto members at the gates of heaven, with the friendly spirit she learned from Loretto women so many years ago at Sacred Heart.