“Fondren is a special place where neighbors help each other and work to make life better for all who live here.” This is how Sister Mary Dorothea Sondgeroth describes the neighborhood she has called home for many years. Fondren is the place where she works and lives – and gives back.
Sondgeroth first arrived at St. Dominic Hospital in 1963. Leaving in 1983, she returned in 1995 to become President and Chairman of the Board of St. Dominic Health Services. She retired from that position in 2011 but has taken on a new role – as Associate Executive Director of St. Dominic Health Services Foundation.
Sister Dorothea (as she is known to many) said she’s seen a lot of change over the years, but many things remain constant. “What I have not seen change are the daily acts of compassion and care that exemplify who we are as an organization and ministry.” These words, spoken by her upon the dedication of the new St. Dominic’s Chapel in her honor in May 2012, were meant to honor others. But they truly exemplify who she is to the community. Sondgeroth is a caring and compassionate person who has served in many capacities over her years of service.
A Dominican Sister and native of Mendota, Illinois, Sondgeroth was born as one of 12 children to Leo and Julia Sondgeroth. While in high school at Sacred Heart Academy, she says her teachers who were part of the Dominican Order inspired her career direction. Matching ministries with talent and aptitude, Sondgeroth taught school before being assigned to healthcare and to Mississippi.
She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa, a Master of Science Degree in dietetics and a Master of Health Administration Degree from St. Louis University. She is an Associate Member of the American College of Healthcare Executives.
It may be easier to name the organizations she hasn’t been a part of or served in some way. Chairperson of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra Board, United Way and Junior Achievement of Mississippi top the list of achievements. Mississippi Blood Services, Memory Walk for Alzheimer’s Association and Juvenile Diabetes Foundation have all benefitted from her selflessness as have Fondren Renaissance Foundation, Mississippi Health Network Board and St. Joseph School Advisory Council.
Sondgeroth received the inaugural Mississippi Business Journal’s 50 Leading Business Women award in 1997. The honor was bestowed upon women whom have made an impact on the growth and well being of Mississippi. In 2005, she was awarded the Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Service, a national award given to “unsung heroes who encounter problems in their communities, believe they can help and create innovative solutions – all without concern for personal recognition or reward.” And that’s where she excels.
Sister Dorothea is quick to deflect honor or praise from herself, instead giving credit to those around her. “I and St. Dominic’s am proud to be part of a friendly, vibrant neighborhood called Fondren,” she said. Upon returning from a sabbatical and taking on her new role, Sondgeroth says she is happy to be back as one of the cast playing her part in giving back to a great community. “In giving to others and reaching out in generous ways, my life is enriched as well.”