Sister Dolores Wisniewski started her career with the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor the way most nuns with the order do: visiting sick people in their homes to provide care.
But before long, members of the order recognized Wisniewski had another talent: she was a good administrator and a natural-born leader. She took on administrative tasks within the nursing agency and eventually was elected president of the entire order.
Wisniewski died Jan. 14 after a long battle with cancer. She was 74, and was still serving as president.
“The sisters of the Congregation have lost a loving, wise and courageous leader and friend,” the order, which started in Brooklyn and is now based in Rockville Centre, said in a statement.
Wisniewski waged “a valiant battle against cancer for more than twenty years,” it said. “Sister Dolores made her disease live with her and was never limited in her ability to live the mission of the Congregation while undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.”
Longtime friend Sister Joan McCann, of the same order, said Wisniewski “was extremely well-organized. She could keep 10 balls going at the same time and know where everything went.”
Wisniewski also was known for her sense of humor, down-to-earth manner and ability to make people feel included, McCann and other nuns said.
Wisniewski grew up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, attended All Saints High School in Brooklyn, and then spent a year working in a bank. Even there supervisors noted her administrative abilities, and promoted her from teller, McCann said.
She flirted with the idea of becoming a journalist, especially a war or foreign correspondent, but the call to religious life was stronger, McCann said. Even so, later as president of the congregation she would write profiles of various sisters in the order’s newsletter, maintaining her interest in journalism.
“She was a great writer,” said Sister Mary Lou Kelly, another member of the order.
She entered the order in 1960, underwent training in nursing at St. Mary’s Hospital in Brooklyn, and then headed into the field, visiting sick people in West Islip, Brooklyn and later in Nassau County as part of Catholic Home Care. She later graduated from Russell Sage College with a bachelor’s of science in nursing, and went on to get a master’s degree in health care administration from The New School, Kelly said.
She spent 33 years in the home visiting part of the sisters’ work, rising into administrative positions. In 2002, she was elected to a leadership position within the congregation as a whole, serving first on its leadership council and then as vice president.
She was elected president in 2009, and was re-elected in 2013. She was starting the third year of her four-year term when she died. The congregation will have an election in coming weeks to choose a successor, Kelly said.
Wisniewski left a mark on almost everyone she worked with, including many staff members at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, which the congregation opened in 1913, said Sister Maureen Jordan.
“She could bring out the best in whomever she worked with,” Jordan said. “She had a way with the staff. Everybody she dealt with really loved her.”
Kelly added: “She was really an example of servant leadership throughout her life.”
Wisniewski is survived by an older sister, Sister Mary Teresa, a Carmelite nun who lives in a cloistered convent in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
A funeral Mass was said Jan. 19 at the congregation’s motherhouse in Rockville Centre. Wisniewski was buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury in the congregation’s plot.