Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Teaching: ‘participation in the very ministry of Jesus’
Story and photo by Lisa Weber, for the Inland Register
(From the March 15, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)
Sandi Dotts with a few of her students at St. Patrick School, Spokane (IR photo)
Sandi Dotts is a quiet hero. Married, a mother and grandmother, she is a teacher’s aide at St. Patrick School in the Hillyard neighborhood in northeast Spokane. Those facts are unremarkable, but the story behind them is inspiring. Sandi’s current job pays less than half of her former job in banking, and she donates back to the school enough to cover tuition for two children and daycare for a third child. The reasons why she does this are complex, but are based both on sound spiritual practice and reasons that come straight from the heart.
In her former job, she found that the next promotion was “never enough.” When changes in ownership made the job unsatisfactory, she left it. She decided to take time for discernment, to pray and to listen for God’s answer about where he wanted her to be. The discernment process took a year, during which she was unemployed. With her husband working, “the bills got paid”, but even he urged her to get a job. In that year, she found herself drawn to the St. Patrick School and began volunteering there, an hour or two at a time. What she found is that “God knows our deepest happiness” and she finds that in working at the school.
Visiting with Sandi at the school allows a person to see the school through her eyes. Surrounded by preschool children busy with coloring and stringing beads, and a co-worker nearby, it is easy to share her sense of joy. She said, “This school brings out the best in people. There’s a generosity of spirit here. We are doing the Lord’s work.”
The children were busy but calm. Interruptions were just another part of the day. Classroom walls display the children’s work and school posters. Sandi talked about the advantages of working in a Catholic school. “lf things get difficult, we can drop everything, hold hands and pray. We can not only say ‘Merry Christmas’, we can say ‘God bless you.” Being in a Catholic school allows both the children and the staff to live their faith during the school day.
The school struggles financially, and it is sometimes a question of whether it will remain open. In spite of that, the preschool is now at capacity, with a waiting list. The spirit of the school is healthy and vibrant. In Sandi’s words, “There’s a beauty and a sense of peace here,” and that is evident even to a casual observer.
Father Kenny St. Hilaire is the pastor at St. Patrick Parish. He provided information about the history of the school and reflected on Sandi’s contribution to the school and parish.
St. Patrick School was opened in 1913, 20 years after the parish was established in 1893. For many, many years, the Holy Names Sisters lived in the convent on campus. They administered and taught in the school.
“People like Sandi Dotts are a true blessing for any school or parish,” said Father St. Hilaire. He described Sandi as “the type of person who works tirelessly without complaining and without losing her sense of humor. Many in our school family know her as the “cheerleader” because, no matter how stressed out, stretched thin, or physically exhausted people (including Sandi!) are feeling, they know they can count on Sandi for a smile or an encouraging word.
“She is also very involved in parish life, taking part in our Wednesday evening Adult Faith Formation series, mowing the parish lawn with her husband in the summertime, and serving coffee and doughnuts after Sunday Mass, just to name a few of her activities.
“But Sandi does not want to be at the center of anyone’s attention,” he said. “She is all about promoting the school and furthering the good ministry that happens there. She sees that the school is much more than just a particular group of individuals who make up an organization; for Sandi, working at the school is a participation in the very ministry of Jesus.”
Sandi allowed her story to be told because it illustrates the spirit of the school. A line from Scripture comes to mind: “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others.” The Hillyard neighborhood is economically poor, but is rich in her example of Catholic faith lived joyfully.