An Unusual Path to Mercy

November 5, 2015

By Beth Rogers Thompson

Sister Susie Dandison ministers as an interpreter for Spanish speakers in Davie County, North Carolina, often accompanying them to medical appointments.

Sister Susie Dandison ministers as an interpreter for Spanish speakers in Davie County, North Carolina, often accompanying them to medical appointments.

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.”

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  1. Suzanne Ryder

    Dear Susie,

    I loved your story.

    Un abrazo,

    Suzanne.


  2. Marilyn Gottemoeller, RSM

    Susie,
    I love that you are highlighted in our e-news!
    I remember first meeting you in Cincinnati and you told me your story. Well, not all of it, but I remember thinking: “What a rich gift we have in Mercy!” Thank you for following your call.
    Marilyn Gottemoeller, RSM


  3. Carolyn McWatters, RSM

    Suzie, I am proud to call you sister! Continued blessings on the wonderful ministry you do for people in need.
    Carolyn McWatters,RSM


  4. Martha Meyer, RSM

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is beautiful.
    Martha Meyer


  5. Jackie Callahan

    Dear Sister, thank you for sharing your life story of Mercy and caring:). I read this just
    at the right time and found encouragement and strength. You have such a beautiful
    Mercy spirit. God’s Blessings:). In Mercy, Jackie Callahan-mercy Associate from New Jersey:)


  6. Jama Hammond

    Susie you certainly are a blessing to everyone who has met you. I for one know you definitely had a calling. What a wonderful recognition to you. You are definitely an inspiration.


  7. Pat wayne

    Sr Susie is a blessing to the community, her family and everyone who knows her! She is a wonderful caring soul!


  8. Maureen and Jim Gildein

    Sister Susie has been a great influence on our lives. We love her compassion and fun sense of humor. So thankful to have been able to know her.


  9. Roselia Mandujano

    Thank you so much for your testimony, in what a wonderful way God works, calling in to a new vocation in a vocation, only He can do that! we never will get to know Him completely, until we meet him face to face, thank you for your YES, it gives me hope that for whatever He is calling me I will know it. Mil gracias por compartir con nosotros, hoy necesitaba leer su historia, Dios la siga bendiciendo para que usted continúe bendiciendo a los demás, Rosie.


  10. Maria Reyes

    Dear Sister Susie, my name is Maria Reyes. I am now training for Sisters Associate for Sisters of Mercy. Reading your story; it reminded me that I had a calling and invitation to discern a religious calling at the same age as you are. It struck me that if I had responded to that invitation, I’d probably been a sister by now. I am also a widowed at the age of 32; I am now 60 years old. I enjoyed reading your story.