Nun serves God and Army

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“For me, God doesn’t show floodlights,” Sister Dede says. “He sheds just enough light for me to take small steps forward.”

She hasn’t yet made her final vows as a sister (a term preferred to “nun” — “sister” indicates an active, worldly role as opposed to a convent-based, contemplative life, she says). But Sister Dede has known since adolescence that she wanted to devote her life to serving God and healing the poor.

“It took me a long time to find a community,” she says.

In 2000, though, she found her future spiritual — and literal — home, Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts, not far from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast: A place where she could serve the medical needs of the poor while also serving God.

“What I saw was God asking me to start a medical branch of an established community,” she says. “The Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts was that community.”

Military, medicine, mission

Way, way before then — in the late 1970s — she joined the Army and went to medical school at Georgetown University (following in the footsteps of her father, a retired thoracic surgeon and alumni of Georgetown).

Joining the Army initially was just a way to pay for medical school, but it grew in significance.

She found that she also could do God’s work while serving as an Army doctor. In 1985 and 1986, she served as an active-duty Army doctor in Egypt’s Sinai desert, where she started a group called the “Sunshine Club” that helped female soldiers “stay chaste and true.”

“We’d just go down to the Red Sea — it was very beautiful — and talk about how to stay strong, and about the pressures to do things they didn’t really want to do,” she says. “I was their mama.”

As it turns out, though, she wasn’t just a role model and spiritual leader for those young women. A scrapbook from the tour shows a deep appreciation from male soldiers, too.

“Your caring attitude is an inspiration to all of us,” a major wrote.

“Thank you for all the help you have given me in both my work and my spirit,” added another.

“I have worked with a lot of physicians in my career, but none have shown the compassion that you have shown toward the troops here,” wrote another.

Being called compassionate, though, was nothing new to Sister Dede.

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