Sr. Dora Zapf: Sharing Her Blessings with Others

When German-born Sister Dora Zapf, SDS first requested permission to serve in the U.S., Salvatorian Sister leadership in Rome approved a two-year stay. Forty-eight years later, Sr. Dora is a well-known face in her small town of New Holstein, Wisconsin. She says, “People know me more than I know them.”

Before moving to the U.S. full-time in 1973, Sr. Dora lived in three different countries. In Germany, she professed her first vows. Next, she moved to England to learn English for missionary work. Four years later, she was reassigned to Tanzania.

For more than twelve12 years, Sr. Dora ministered in schools throughout Tanzania. She served as a housemother for over 200 boarding students and shopped for electrical parts and other supplies for missions in the rural southern region. She also taught Tanzanian girls sewing, first aid and other domestic skills, and coordinated the kitchen and workers at the Nandembo mission.

While in Tanzania, she developed a friendship with Salvatorian Brother Regis Fust. In fact, Sr. Dora’s long-term residence in the U.S. is largely due to Br. Regis. During his visits to Tanzania, he approached her twice about assisting at the U.S. Salvatorian Mission Warehouse based in New Holstein. Eventually, she said yes.

From her time serving in Africa, Sr. Dora understands the great need Salvatorian Mission Warehouse helps to fill. When the Warehouse opened in 1963, Sr. Dora was on the receiving end of the first shipment to Tanzania – unpacking clothing, medical supplies, foodstuffs, and toiletries for delivery to areas of great need.

Alongside faithful volunteers and Br. Regis, Sr. Dora sorted and packed supplies into shipping containers sent to missionaries and people around the world for 42 years. Affectionately, Sr. Dora refers to the Warehouse as a “loving miracle” and relishes the joy it continues to bring to families. Sr. Dora served the Warehouse until her retirement in 2015. While she still volunteers there every Monday, her focus now is ministering to the homebound.

Sr. Dora in a blue shirt, wearing glasses, and smiling.

“God has blessed each of us generously. So, we must share our blessings with others.”

Sr. dora zapf

In partnership with her church, Sr. Dora offers pastoral care to people in their homes or in assisted or nursing care facilities. Every week, she visits “Red” – a 96-year old woman with bright red hair. Red says, “Sr. Dora’s visits are essential. I have no family near, so she keeps me connected to my community.”

Whenever Sr. Dora steps out of the house, she catches a glimpse of the phrase, “God unlock my lips to speak love—.” Written on a piece of scrap paper taped to her front door, these words encapsulate her homebound ministry. As Psalm 51:15 exhorts, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” Sr. Dora speaks God’s love and praise to everyone she encounters.

As one can imagine, COVID-19 disrupted Sr. Dora’s visitation schedule. Initially barred from in-person visits, handmade cards kept her in touch with the homebound. Sr. Dora has since adapted her ministry to the pandemic.

Now, she’s rebuilding her connections with New Holstein homebound in person. She visits people Sunday through Friday, and without a driver’s license, she walks everywhere. Serving the homebound is her passion, and she’ll do it as long as God lets her: “I’m happy and satisfied with what I do.”

Even at the age of 87, Sr. Dora is constantly on the move. Her day starts at 4:00 a.m. and ends at 9:00 p.m. In those 17 hours, she cooks, gardens, visits the homebound, prays, spends time with friends, and watches Jeopardy. While she claims no hobbies, she eagerly fills her precious free time by inviting friends over for a warm meal and, in the summertime, a tour of her garden. She also has a dear friend who accompanies her on homebound visits and a group she meets almost every Tuesday for two-dollar cheeseburgers.

Connecting with others is a two-way street in Sr. Dora’s eyes. “God has blessed each of us generously. So, we must share our blessings with others,” she advises. If a neighbor shares produce from their garden, invite them over for a meal. Pay it forward, and connections will foster friendships. Like all Sisters of the Divine Savior, Sr. Dora’s desire to give to others emulates her Congregation’s mission to make known the goodness and kindness of Jesus.

— by Kaitlin Seebruch