Father Welk shares ‘Sister Dolores Strunk: For Whom the Bell Tolls’

Jan 26, 2023
Sister Dolores Strunk, ASC

Over the course of the past century, countless individuals have contributed to making Sacred Heart Hall a warm home; providing students an opportunity for growth in a supportive environment.

Father Tom Welk, chaplain of the ASC Wichita Center, shares a humorous story involving Sister Dolores Strunk (1931- 2008) in the 100-year-old Sacred Heart Hall building.

Sister Dolores Strunk, ASC, in many ways, is one of the unsung heroes for making Sacred Heart Hall much more than brick and mortar. Her official position was in the library, responsible for various aspects of its operation. But she did much more than that in her almost 40 years in various positions of what is now Newman University.

Father Tom Welk, former chaplain and teacher at Newman University
Father Tom Welk, former chaplain and teacher at Newman University

“As a sacristan, she was of invaluable assistance to me in my role as chaplain, making sure everything was in place for liturgical celebrations. I will always be grateful for her support in her quiet way,” Welk said.

Sister Dolores had a unique relationship with students. Being extremely shy, her interactions with them were initially curt and brusque. It did not take long for them to see through this veneer to find her caring and supportive side. Who knows how many essays, term papers and other assignments she meticulously typed (before the age of computers!) for countless students.

This was one of the reasons why she was affectionately known by the students as “Sister Dottie.” And, of course, they delighted in pulling pranks on her; which she secretively loved.

One of these involved the bells located on the west side of the St. John’s Chapel in Sacred Heart Hall. The bell was not often rung, and only during daytime hours. It could only be rung by the rope located in the chapel sacristy.

Access to this rope was rigidly controlled by Sister Dolores. The sacristy was kept locked and only two people had keys: Sister Dolores and Welk.

The bell, which is located on the west side of Sacred Heart Hall, still rings to this day.
The bell, which is located on the west side of Sacred Heart Hall, still rings to this day.

So you can imagine in the mid-1970s how surprised the Newman community was to hear the bells ringing at all hours after midnight. No one was more surprised than Sister Dolores. Since there were only two keys in circulation, Welk was seen as a key suspect for providing the culprits access to the bell-ringing rope. Of course, Welk rightly claimed innocence, but he also was perplexed at how the bell ringing was being carried out.

The case was solved when Sister Maureen Farrer looked out the window from her office in what is presently the campus ministry office. She noticed a rope hanging from the bell tower, coming down to the ground level in an outside corner of the chapel. Some students had managed to climb to the roof of the chapel, attached a rope to the bells and rang them whenever they wanted!

As you can rightly conclude: The bells were being rung in “honor” of one person: Sister Dolores.

In the mock “Academy Awards” ceremony that following spring, the students awarded Sister Dolores the John Donne literary award, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

A highly deserved honor for a lady who is part of the rich legacy of Sacred Heart Hall.

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