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Goodbye to a Gatekeeper: 'Transition, not Retirement' for Sister Gloria
Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Gloria DeCotis was doing officially Wednesday what she’s done symbolically for years: She served as a gatekeeper at the old St. Vincent de Paul School on Burnet Avenue. DeCotis, just inside the main entrance, made sure no one was locked out from the monthly Friends of Dorothy House dinner. For each guest, it offered a chance for a face-to-face goodbye.
“I’m going to miss her so much,” said Carol Bresee, who described DeCotis as having a gift for remembering the names and history of anyone she met. DeCotis, Bresee said, could always make even the most casual of acquaintances “feel special.”
The 103-pound DeCotis, who turns 85 next week, will retire in July. At the dinner, she wore her preferred wardrobe of a T-shirt, casual slacks and sneakers, an outfit ideal for scraping plates. She kept the keys to the school on a bracelet around her wrist. Many visitors, after embracing her, described her in the same way:
“There are no words to thank her,” said Michael DeSalvo, who — with Nick Orth — founded the Friends of Dorothy House in 1992. They’ve cared for many residents in the advanced stages of AIDS. When the house opened, DeCotis suggested St. Vincent’s as an ideal place for the monthly dinners, which turned into a major fundraiser for the Friends of Dorothy.
“She’s the spirit of this school,” DeSalvo said, “and she’s always brought us unconditional love.”
Midway through Wednesday’s meal, he surprised DeCotis by presenting her with a bouquet of flowers. As the crowd laughed and applauded, DeSalvo spoke of her as one of “those naughty nuns” whom the Vatican maintains put too much emphasis on social justice, and not enough on reinforcing church doctrine.
DeCotis, for her part, used the word “sad” in describing the breach with the church. She will soon move to a retirement home in Latham, near Albany, although she is planning to stay busy as a volunteer. She prefers to speak of herself as “transitioning,” a familiar state of being for a nun who’s moved from place to place for more than 60 years.
She was born in Watervliet, in Albany County, where her father worked in a steel mill. In 1948, she took her vows as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Troy. Her order eventually assigned her to Syracuse. DeCotis settled in as a teacher at St. Vincent de Paul, the parish school where she spent the bulk of her career. She arrived at the peak of the American “baby boom,” when Catholic schools were exploding with enrollment.
“I loved teaching,” said DeCotis, who stayed at St. Vincent’s long enough to live through the opposite extreme. In 1986, a deep plunge in attendance caused the Diocese of Syracuse to shutter the building. DeCotis had cringed as other empty schools fell into disrepair. She envisioned a better fate for St. Vincent’s.
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Sister Gloria with young friend at St. Vincent's Parish, Syracuse