July 2007: SISTER DORIS POETTKER (entered eternal life on January 4, 2013)
On May 25, 1918 a baby was born who would learn from her parents a strong work ethic, faith in God, and a deep sense of love. Ultimately she would spend her life in the service of others: from milking cows for her father and helping her mother with household chores, to working as a housekeeper, cook, pharmacist, and hospital administrator for her Religious Community - all while committing her life to the service of God.
“From my earliest memories, once I made my mind up on something, I never turned back,” explained Sister Doris Poettker who continues to be an active 89-year-old Hospital Sister of St. Francis. She is the second oldest of six children who were raised on a farm in Aviston, IL. Her father, Herman Poettker, was a grain and dairy farmer and her mother, Mary (Strieker), cared for the home and children. “I started milking cows when I was eight years old,” Sister Doris said with a smile.
Leaving home at a young age for Highland
She attended St. Francis Grade School, Aviston, and was taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame - admiring them for their hard work and dedication. As early as the 4th grade she knew that she wanted to be a Sister and a teacher.
Like many Americans during the Depression, Herman Poettker struggled financially. So his 16 year old daughter told her parents that she was quitting high school and accepting a housekeeping job at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Highland, IL – a community 20 miles away. “It was difficult to leave home because we were a very close family. There were many lonely nights in the dormitory which did not have private bedrooms but I knew I was helping my father and I learned to be strong. I grew up fast,” she added. She was able to send most of her paycheck ($20 per month) to her father each month and enjoyed one day off once a month.
Leadership skills evident at an early age
The Hospital Sisters in Highland recognized the abilities of Sister Doris. “A few months after I began working as a housekeeper, one of the Sisters in the kitchen went on Retreat for a few weeks and I was put in charge of her department and managed the staff…I was only 17 years old,” she said with a chuckle.
Decision time about answering God's call
The discussion of Religious Life came up several times with the Sisters and for Sister Doris it was a reminder of a calling she felt years before. “When I was 19 years old, we had a weekend Retreat and I remember the priest telling me that he thought I had a vocation. I answered that I agreed and he said ‘just go’ and that was it. I had already spent too many years thinking about it,” she stated. “I first told my parents and they supported me. My father said ‘what you plan in your life go through with it’ and when I told the Sisters they were so pleased and made me feel so welcome. A couple months later, September 8, 1937, Sister Doris entered the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis.
Teacher, nurse, and pharmacist
After finishing high school during her Novitiate, Sister Doris graduated from St. John’s School of Nursing and was ready to begin working as a nurse. It was during World War II and hospitals had a difficult time getting employees. “Almost right after I wrote State Boards, I was told I was to go to Pharmacy school. As I thought about this path for my life I realized that I was comfortable with math and science in grade school and the theory behind pharmacy intrigued me," she said. She later received a bachelor’s degree from St. Louis College of Pharmacy.
Service throughout many HSHS communities
Over the years her assignments have been at the Sisters’ sponsored hospitals of St. Vincent (Green Bay, WI); St. Elizabeth’s (Belleville, IL); St. John’s (Springfield, IL); Sacred Heart (Eau Claire, WI); St. Mary’s (Streator, IL)...served as Administrator and involved in the formation of the Hospital Advisory Council, Ladies' Auxiliary, and plans for building the new hospital and raising funds from the community; St. Mary’s (Decatur, IL); St. John’s TB Sanitarium (Springfield); St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center (Green Bay); and most recently at St. Anthony’s Memorial (Effingham, IL).
Fondness for Effingham, IL
Effingham has a special place in her heart. She served at St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital from 1985-2002 and during that time grew close to the hospital staff, physicians, volunteers, and community members. “People here treated each other like family and because of that spirit I saw how the hospital and the community grew and how the people worked together for the common good of caring for the patients at St. Anthony's,” Sister Doris said fondly.
According to Dan Woods, CEO of St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital, “Sister Doris truly lived the family centered aspects of St. Anthony’s ministry, both in the hospital and community at large. While it has been a few years since she has physically served in Effingham, to this day she has kept in touch with many employees and community members whose lives she has touched, always remembering children’s names and activities. Although she is small in stature, her presence remains large with her strong spirit, will and heart. Many at the hospital and St. Anthony’s parish are grateful for her compassion and friendship.”
Currently Sister Doris resides at St. Francis Convent, Springfield, and is active with the Ministry of Prayer and Adoration and assists as a Sacristan for the Adoration Chapel and Church. In looking back on her life, Sister Doris realized that “As I advanced in age and internalized God’s command to love Him and our neighbor as ourselves, I began to experience a greater desire to serve others."
She concludes with a simple message: “All of us will find joy in our lives. We must trust in God for guidance, work hard, and always see the good in every person.”