Sister Dorothea Hudert’s life in Alaska, she says, was good preparation for her life and work in Tanzania and Namibia.
Sister Dorothea Hudert claims that her life growing up in Alaska was definitely preparation for the mission field. A twin, born in Pompton Lakes, NJ, she moved with her family at age nine to Nome, AK, where her father had accepted a job. At 15, her family moved again, this time to Juneau, where she attended Juneau High School, graduating in 1954.
The strong pull to mission, however, didn’t really begin in Alaska, even if the rigors of life in our northernmost state built in her a fortitude and ability to rise to challenges in daily life. It began with her uncle, Father John Coffey, himself a Maryknoll missioner, who would tell his family tales from the field. Conversations she had with her roommate at Marylhurst College, just outside Portland, OR, where she attended for two years, solidified her passion and, in 1956, she entered.
After working in the offices of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers for two years, Sister Dorothea worked with children and adults in Boston’s Chinatown. She received a B.S. degree in education from Good Counsel College, White Plains, NY, and an M.A. and Certificate in Physical Therapy from New York University. During her years in NYU, she worked at Rusk Institute and Sloan Kettering Hospital.
In 1970, Sister Dorothea was assigned to Tanzania, East Africa, and studied Swahili. While she waited for a hospital to be built, she took a course in Ethiopia to learn more about physiotherapy in relation to patients with Hansen’s disease (leprosy). She spent eighteen years establishing physical therapy departments in three areas around Lake Victoria. One of her many stories is about a nine year old Tanzanian boy crippled by polio who might never have been able to go to school. Pedro could only crawl. It was Sister Dorothea’s hand-rigged polyester resin splint with leather straps custom-fitted to Pedro that enabled him to stand up and walk over rocky ground to school.
She did “reverse mission” sharing her African experiences with the U.S. sending church for three years and then returned to Tanzania, teaching physiotherapy techniques to nurses in government hospitals. She also worked with a Tanzanian physiotherapist to establish the first School of Physiotherapy in Tanzania.
Returning to Maryknoll in 1994, she served in the Immigration Office and also offered holistic alternative health care. On the west coast, she again shared mission insights in churches and schools.
In 2004, she was assigned from Tanzania to Namibia. a country that had suffered under apartheid and gained its independence in 1990. There she served as chaplain at the A. Bernard May Cancer Center, and for cancer patients in Central State Hospital. Cancer patients came from all over Namibia, she recalled, noting that she found it most difficult yet inspiring to hear children with cancer say, “When one is very sick, one of the other children sits with the child to keep that friend company.”
Sister Dorothea also worked with physically challenged children at the Oponganda Day Care Center in Windhoek, where the patients are from impoverished settlements in the area, and at the Lebenschule School for physically challenged children.
Besides having post graduate training in Physiotherapy, Sister Dorothea is a Reiki practitioner and T’ai Chi Chih instructor. She has used the techniques with teenagers of parents with AIDS, and practiced them at a conference for adults with HIV who came from all over Namibia to attend.
Sister Dorothea also gives workshops to AIDS Volunteers of Catholic Aids Action. These volunteers burnout quickly, she explained, so having a social/fun time renews their energy and desire to continue helping patients with AIDS in the villages around Windhoek.
In June 2015, the Maryknoll Sisters completed their work in Namibia, turning the operation of their services over to local practitioners. She presently resides at the Maryknoll Sisters Center in Ossining, NY, and will relocate to the Maryknoll Sisters Convent in Monrovia, CA, in early 2016.