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Sister Maureen Dorr helped the homeless, needy

TAMPA — Sister Maureen Dorr was a regular at the Trinity Cafe, where fancy meals have been dished up each day to hundreds of homeless and needy people over the past decade and a half.

She would serve food, sit and chat with the desperate guests, pray with them and console them.

She died last week in Allegany, New York, in the St. Elizabeth Motherhouse, where the order of Franciscan Sisters of Allegany is based.

She was a nun for 66 years, was 85 years old and had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

A memorial Mass is set for 3 p.m. Wednesday at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, 1203 N. Nebraska Ave.

“She is absolutely a saint in my life,’’ said Trinity Cafe board chairman Jeff Darrey, one of the founders of the cafe that serves gourmet meals to the homeless. “I’ve known her for 14 years and she was an inspiration for me, a mentor for me and a prayer partner for me. She was a wonderful, beautiful, holy woman.”

Darrey traveled to New York in September and spent two days visiting Sister Maureen. She died on Oct. 1.

Sue Hamill has volunteered at the cafe for about five years and said Sister Maureen made a strong impression on her.

“She had this quiet strength about her,’’ Hamill said.” She wore an apron that said, ‘Sister in the ‘hood.’ She would always be outside with everyone, just talking to them,” Hamill said. “She never judged anyone.’’

When she wasn’t serving meals to the guests, Sister Maureen found a place to sit and chatted with them.

“She could engage anyone in conversation,” Hamill said. “She could talk to people about things I would be uncomfortable with. People loved her. When we found out she was ill, when she moved away, there was such a void.”

Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, Sister Maureen joined the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany at St. Elizabeth Motherhouse in August 1949.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in education, she received a master’s degree in sacred doctrine from St. Mary’s College in Indiana. She taught and served as principal at a number of schools from New York to New Jersey to Connecticut to Florida.

After retiring from education 17 years ago, she moved to Tampa, where she began volunteering at Trinity Cafe and ministering to jail and prison inmates.

Wendy Hlavacek knew Sister Maureen in both places. Hlavacek said she spent a year in prison and Sister Maureen often put money into her account and wrote her three or four times a week.

“She was always there to help somebody,” Hlavacek said.“When they told me she had died, I cried like a baby. I have no family. She was my family.”

Trinity Cafe Program Director Cindy Davis said Sister Maureen had volunteered since the cafe opened in 2001.

“She came four days a week to volunteer and on the fifth day, she always went to the jail to minister to the people behind bars,’’ Davis said. “She was of the Franciscan order and their philosophy is to care for the poor and that is what she did.”

The nun never could walk from her car into the cafe without interacting with the hungry line of homeless people.

“It would take her 20 to 30 minutes to get inside,” Davis said. “All the guests, they all wanted to speak to her. She prayed with them, encouraged and consoled them. She was everything; a mom, a pastor, a mentor, a confidant.”

On July 29, Sister Maureen made her last visit to the cafe before leaving for New York to spend her last days among the sisters of her order.

“When we pulled into to the parking lot, everyone there erupted in applause,” Davis said. “She quietly but powerfully made such a difference for people here.”

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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