Home » Q & A » Q&A: Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth, President, St. Dominic Health Services

Q&A: Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth, President, St. Dominic Health Services

She may be retiring, but Sister Dorthea will keep on working

In January president of St. Dominic Health Services Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth will step down from the leadership role she has held since 1995, remaining active as a board member for the organization and fund-raiser for St. Dominic’s Foundation.

Sister Dorothea earned a bachelor’s degree in arts from Marycrest College in Iowa and holds a master’s degree in health administration from St. Louis University. She is a member of the Dominican Sisters Community of Springfield, Ill. Sister taught elementary and secondary education in Illinois before first joining St. Dominic’s as a dietitian. She has been named one of the Mississippi Business Journal’s 50 Leading Business Women and was recently chosen as a Health Care Hero by the MBJ.

Q — How did your career begin, and how did you decide to go into medicine?
A —
I was in Illinois where we have a lot of snow. I was teaching first and second grade, and of course these little kids came in with their boots. We went out for recess, and they came back in and I was collecting milk money. Little Mary Jo was sitting up in the front desk. I remember vividly, I said, “Mary Jo, that coat room is pretty messy. Would you go in and clean up the coat room?” So she skipped in there, the kids were doing their little seat work, and I was collecting money. She went in there, and I didn’t pay any attention. So, it was time to go home. The little kids padded in there and came out and said, “I can’t find my boots.” She had a red boot, a white boot, a black boot. Red, white, black with their little heels against the base board. It was beautiful to look at, but they were all mixed up. (A snow storm was coming and) the bus was out waiting. That was the end of my teaching career.

Q — You’re taking a sabbatical?
A —
I am going to take a sabbatical. In February and March I’m going to take a trip out in the Massachusetts area for a time of quiet prayer and reflection and just kind of unwind. And then I’m going to come back to the Midwest and visit with my family and do some traveling with my family. I’m going to stay on the board for St. Dominic Health Services as the vice chair and also stay on the board for the St. Dominic Health Services Foundation.

Q — Who will take over St. Dominic Health Services leadership in 2012?
A —
Claude Harbarger is going to step up to this role, and he’s an outstanding leader for the hospital. He has been here 25 years and served 20 years in the hospital as president, so the people know him. The doctors and the staff all respect him. He’s a man of integrity and he’s just a good man. And of course, Lester Diamond (executive vice president of operations), who’s been here 19 years. I’ve always believed in promoting from within when you’ve got the talent, and we’ve got the talent. I’m leaving it in good hands.

Q — How will the presence of the Dominican sisters continue at St. Dominic’s?
A —
We’re still going to be here. We have seven sisters here, and that’s not going to change. And our sisters in Springfield (Illinois), who are the main sponsors of St. Dominic’s, are committed fully to keeping St. Dominic’s in their sponsorship. The Dominican sisters’ approach to mission integration has been very ecumenical from the beginning. …

We just had our 65th anniversary here. When the sisters came, they established early on what our mission is: We’re here to serve the people of Mississippi, communicate a Christian message, build community and also to give excellent service. So we’ve done this all these years. Our mission has been integrated throughout all we do. We have good lay people throughout. If we depended just on the sisters, it wouldn’t get done.

We tell our employees: This is a ministry, not a job. They’re here not just to draw a pay check. They’re here for a service. If you work in a factory, you work with things. Here, you’re working with people — they’re sacred, and they’re special. I think our lay people have picked that up beautifully. We’re here to do the Lord’s work. That’s pure and simple.

Q — What do you think makes you a good leader? Employees have said they’ve seen you walk down the hall and stop to pick up a gum wrapper.
A —
Servant leadership. We’re here to serve. We’re not here to lord it over people. Just because I’m in this role right now, it’s not beneath me to help others and bend down and pick up the paper. It’s part of what we are. Being fair. Being respectful of others. The golden rule. Having integrity. Walk the talk: Don’t say one thing and do another. Just be a role model and treat others with fairness and justice. Early on somebody asked me what my modus operandi was, and I thought, “Micah 6:8: This is what the Lord asks of you to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with the Lord.”

Being a team leader — you can’t do it alone. I’m not taking credit for any of this. It’s all of us working together. It’s like a symphony: Somebody has to direct, but everybody plays an important part to bring it to a beautiful, symphonic piece.

Q — What has been the hardest thing about leading a hospital?
A —
Some of the challenges I think are the bureaucracy and the regulations that are getting more onerous.

Q — Hobbies?
A —
I like spectator sports. I like to ski, but I’m not going to be skiing this year. I like to bowl. I play golf with my brother, but I’m a rookie — terrible. And I like to listen to music. I like to knit and decoupage. I’ve got a lot of hobbies. Gardening and doing bird watching. I’ve got a stack of reading I’d like to do. There are all kinds of things I’ve started that I’ve been putting off. I started a baby afghan, but I think the baby is going to be in college before I get finished!

More on Sister Dorothea:
Favorite movie:
“The Blind Side”
Favorite Food: I can’t name just one as I enjoy all types of good healthy foods — I love to eat!
Person who’s inspired you the most: My mother and my teachers

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About Amy McCullough

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