An Unusual Path to Mercy
November 5, 2015
By Beth Rogers Thompson
By the time Teresa Susana Dandison became Sister Susie, she had raised four children. Like many sisters, she met the Sisters of Mercy at a Catholic school—her children’s.
Born in Argentina, she married at age 17. Her husband, John, also was an Argentinian native, but his parents were British and Irish, so she began to pick up the English language from her in-laws. For several years, the couple lived in England, where John worked at the Argentine Embassy.
In 1954, they visited friends in the United States, planning to stay only a few years and then return to Argentina. Instead, they ended up settling in Salisbury, North Carolina, across the street from Sacred Heart School. That’s where Sister Susie met Sister Pauline Clifford, a mentor whose memory still causes her to tear up with emotion.
“I have photos of kids playing in the snow behind the school with sisters in full habit, and later we’d go inside and the sisters would make hot chocolate for us,” Sister Susie says.
Sadly, John died of a heart attack at age 43 in 1971, leaving her a 39-year-old widow. “I used to hate being called that,” she says. “I thought a widow was somebody old.”
In 1974 she went on a retreat in Asheville, North Carolina, and reconnected with Sister Pauline. “We went for a walk, and I said to her, ‘Sometimes I think I have a religious vocation.’ She told me, ‘If God is really calling you, you’ll know it.’”
Later, when some sisters came to Salisbury for an event, she expressed her feeling to Sister Jeanne-Margaret McNally, who emphatically assured her she was not too old to become a sister. By 1984, Sister Susie had grown certain of her call to religious life and entered the Community at age 52.
She began a ministry as a chaplain at Mercy Hospital South in Pineville, North Carolina. Soon her language skills were in demand to assist Spanish-speaking patients in the emergency room and nearby medical offices.
In 1996 the bishop invited Sister Anita Sheerin to come to Mocksville, North Carolina, as a pastoral associate. She asked Sister Susie to come minister to the growing Hispanic population. At William R. Davie Elementary School, Sister Susie helped parents with registration, tutored students and worked in the English as a Second Language program.
Still in Mocksville, she continues to interpret for Spanish-speakers at the Davie County Health Department, the courthouse and the Storehouse for Jesus free clinic. She also fills in for the interpreter at the county Social Services Department, sometimes accompanying social workers on home visits.
In addition, Sister Susie conducts baptismal instruction at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, where Mass in Spanish began in 2000 with 10 parishioners and has grown to about 300.
“I think I bring them a sense of belonging,” she says. “I accept them, and they trust me. They’re friends. I’ve been with some of these families 17 or 18 years and watched their children grow up.”
She recalls a stormy February night when she and Sister Anita drove a frantic mother and her baby, who was turning blue and having trouble breathing, to a hospital. “Now that child is 18, and I see her at Mass,” Sister Susie reports happily.
Just as her ministry has expanded over the years, Sister Susie’s own family has grown; she now has 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Her faith has sustained her through not only the loss of her husband but also the death of an adult daughter.
“God is always with you,” she says. “You may not always feel his presence, but he’s there. I’ve had the support of the Community holding me up, my extended family, and I’ve never regretted answering the call.”