1. News

Carlton: The remarkable life of Sister Maureen

Sister Maureen Dorr touches the face of Juan Rodriguez, a man who came to eat at Trinity Cafe in Tampa, where she volunteered. Sister Maureen was known for remembering people’s names — and dancing.
Published Dec. 15, 2015

Weekdays, the street-worn men and women pushed through the doors to Trinity Cafe at the edge of downtown Tampa, into the warm smells of good soup, meat and vegetables, for some of them the day's only real meal. Nearly always, Sister Maureen was there greeting them, touching an arm and asking how someone was doing, knowing their names and their stories.

She was Sister Maureen Dorr, though I don't remember anyone saying her last name, just Sister Maureen. I met her when I was writing about this remarkable cafe that serves sit-down meals to anyone hungry, sometimes 300 in a single lunch. You couldn't miss how she looked into their faces, how she did not shy from hugging anyone.

"When she talked with you," Trinity's program director Cindy Davis said this week, "it was like you were the only person in the world at the moment."

Tall and thin in her apron, she moved through the hardscrabble crowd like some kind of light, a cap of gray hair in a sea of people, stopping here and there to deliver silverware, pour iced tea, bend her head for a quiet talk or take someone's face in her hands.

And sometimes, when whatever easy-listening music playing in the cafe so moved her, Sister Maureen would take the hand of one of the men. "Handsome" she called them, no matter if they were dirty or disheveled. There in the dining room, they would dance.

Whenever I went by Trinity, Sister Maureen had thoughts for newspaper stories that would do some good in the world, or at least the immediate vicinity. It's hard to deny the existence of truly good people when the evidence takes your hand and looks you in the eye.

"Cheerio," she would say in lieu of goodbye.

She was a nun for 66 of her 85 years, a teacher and a principal with a master's degree in sacred doctrine. It's pretty laughable to call her last years "retirement:" four weekdays at Trinity and a fifth with inmates at the Hillsborough County jails.

A homeless man named Douglas Fletcher told me this week how over the years Sister Maureen visited him in jail, how she prayed for his mother when she had a stroke, how she knew the names of people on the streets even when he didn't. "Sister Maureen was family to people who didn't have a family," he said.

"I just go up and down the street and talk with them and ask how they are doing," she told the Times a few years ago. "Some want you to pray with them and I do that. Some just want a blessing, some just want a hello and a smile. That I can do."

She was also proudly Irish and "the epitome of tough love," Davis said. You explained your actions to Sister Maureen.

Some days when she got to the jail, the list of inmates wanting to see her could be 10 long. When they got out — her "graduates," Sister Maureen called them — she handed out bus passes so they could at least get a meal at Trinity.

"That's what Sister Maureen was about, making sure they knew God loved them," said Evelyn Lopez, a jail chaplain. "No matter what. She wanted better for them." You would see her talking closely with burly jail deputies and jail staff, too.

When she got sick with cancer, she was still calling the chaplain from her hospital bed about this inmate or that one. Could you go see her, Sister Maureen would ask, and let her know I'm praying for her?

"She never stopped," Lopez said.

On a sunny day in July, she was determined to make one last trip to Trinity, refusing a wheelchair but agreeing to a walker. As the car door opened to let her out, the crowd waiting for lunch, shouldering their backpacks and the lives that brought them here, erupted in applause. Sister Maureen was here.

Last week she died at St. Elizabeth Motherhouse in Allegany, N.Y. A priest and several sisters surrounded her bed to sing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, I'm told. People who loved Sister Maureen say she would have loved that.


  1. Harold Fritz, 75, was awarded the nation's highest and rarest honor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in 1969. The Army lieutenant saved his platoon during an ambush in the Vietnam war. He spoke to students at Farnell Middle School in Tampa. MARLENE SOKOL  |  Times
    Harold Fritz wanted to talk about teachers’ salaries and education. The kids wanted selfies with one of the 71 living recipients of the nation’s highest honor.
  2. PDQ's new Trinity location features a self-serve sauce bar with seven signature sauces perfect for dipping chicken tenders. Courtesy of PDQ
    Both chains are expanding locally and held grand opening celebrations this month with giveaways and free food.
  3. Casey Cane has resigned as chair of Pinellas County’s Housing Finance Authority in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times story about his failure to disclose an arrest for a financial felony when he was 19. He also serves as a Palm Harbor fire commissioner. Casey Cane
    Casey Cane failed to disclose his arrest for a financial felony in 2006. He said he didn’t think he had to reveal that information.
  4. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks to about 75 people Tuesday at a city conference on innovation and collaboration. (City of Tampa photo by Janelle McGregor) Janelle McGregor
    City Hall brought together startups and the nonprofits that nurture them for a discussion of possible ideas to improve city operations and service.
  5. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView, use ground-penetrating radar to scan a portion of King High School campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Preliminary answers from the ground-penetrating radar could come as soon as next week.
  6. A federal judge gas stayed the Nov. 7 execution of death row inmate James Dailey, 73, for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. Tampa Bay Times
    Dailey was set to be put to death Nov. 7. A judge ordered his execution to be postponed to give his attorneys time to present their claims. But the state can appeal.
  7. Markeith Loyd, suspected of fatally shooting a Florida police officer, attends his initial court appearance Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at the Orange County Jail, in Orlando, Fla. Loyd spoke out of turn and was defiant during the appearance on charges of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend. He was injured during his arrest Tuesday night following a weeklong manhunt.
    The same jury found Loyd guilty last week of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting 24-year-old Sade Dixon outside her home in 2016.
  8. The new owner of a dilapidated mobile home park on Gandy Boulevard has sued the city of Tampa over a record-setting fine levied against the property for a massive tree removal in August. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
    A Gandy Boulevard mobile home park owner is suing the city of Tampa over a record $420,000 fine .
  9. Dashboard camera video shows a Tampa police cruiser pursuing Dusharn Weems through a parking lot. A second later, Weems is fatally injured when the car strikes him. Courtesy Haydee Oropesa
    The family of Dusharn Weems, 23, claims an officer intentionally struck him after he was spotted driving a stolen car.
  10. Evangeline Cummings posted a video on Twitter of what appears to be a wasp stinging a coral snake that was dangling from a branch attempting to eat a dead snake. Evangeline Cummings/Twitter
    A coral snake found that out the hard way and a Florida woman caught it all on camera.