Dorothy had met Tom at a local dance held at an old farmhouse one lazy summer evening. The dance was an intercollegiate mixer for the local Catholic Schools in the area. For such a small town Erie had a surprising number of colleges, and many of them Catholic. Dorothy was a sophomore at Mercyhurst a beautiful all girls Catholic Campus spread on the hills overlooking the city that was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in the early 20th century. She was a devout Catholic who often entertained the idea of giving herself over to the Lord’s service as a nun since she seemed to never meet any guys that she clicked with. She thought for sure she was destined for the habit and celibacy but she had come out that night to just live a little. Tom wasn’t a Catholic, and did not attend a Catholic school. He was a Junior at The Behrend College on the cities east side and tagged along with some buddies that night in order to meet some girls. The two of them were forced to be dance partners for everyone else had partnered up, and as they danced slowly in that warm summer night a burning fire began to kindle in their hearts.
They dated and even though Tom was not Catholic, Dorothy’s parents could see he was a wonderful lad of good moral fiber and they wholeheartedly approved of the relationship. That October as their separate semesters were well under way Tom walked with Dorothy through the colorful wooded autumn trails of his campus at Wintergreen Gorge. At a wonderfully secluded site by a small waterfall he pulled a ring from his jacket and proposed. It was a simple ring, with one small quarter cakat diamond, but to Dorothy it was the most beautiful piece of jewelry she had ever beheld. He asked her to marry him and she accepted. Always the traditionalist Dorothy wanted to be a June bride and they set the date.
But the year was 1941 and December 7th the world forever changed for that generation of American youth. Tom was shipped off to the European theater of World War 2 before Christmas. They had toyed with the idea of having an early wedding, but they had no money and decided that it was best if they postponed it until his return.
Dorothy was heartsick but she continued her education at Mercyhurst while Tom fought the Nazis in France. Months went by and the correspondence was slow but steady, but abruptly stopped around the time the spring semester was over. Weeks later within days of their proposed wedding date the dreaded news arrived with a courier from Veterans affairs, Tom had been killed in action and his body lost.
Of course Dorothy’s world was torn asunder. Her grief knew no end, but in her sorrow she turned to the convent of the Sisters of Mercy for solace. She found peace sitting alone in the College’s Christ the King Chapel, lighting the candles in memory of Tom and it was during this time she knew that no other man would ever take his place, so she joined the convent and became a nun with the Sisters of Mercy. After her training in the sisterhood she took her final vows and following the service she came back to the Chapel where she had originally made her decision. She took out her engagement ring that Tom had given her and placed it on the finger of the baby Jesus in the area between the main Christ the King’s Chapel and the smaller Queens chapel as a symbol of both her devotion to the church and her leaving her old life behind as she moved towards the future.
The years went by and Dorothy adapted well to the life at the convent and was a studious and hard working member of the order. When the war ended in 1945 Dorothy was still serving the college community when she had a visitor. In the dark light of the chapel the young man in uniform stepped forward, but even before she saw his face Dorothy knew who it was and in the shock of discovery she almost fainted. It was Tom. He had never died in Europe; there had been some confusion on the battlefield. He had tried to write but since he was constantly on the move and in battle as an infantry man, communication was next to impossible. What letters he had sent must have been intercepted because of his supposed death.
Dorothy was overjoyed at the safe return of the man she loved. But as they spent time together the conflict in her heart tore her apart. She had loved Tom but was far in the process of moving on with her life. Tom acted like their parting was just a few days ago and he wanted to start the relationship right where they had left it, but for Dorothy that was a lifetime ago. She was a different person; she had devoted her life to God. That Tom was not a Catholic and had no desire to become one only aggravated her frustration. But deep in her heart she did truly love him. If there was every to be man in her life her heart knew it could only be Tom. Tom was very frustrated with the situation as well. He had held onto his love for Dorothy through the daily hell of war on the battlefield, and he was deeply hurt by her inability to make a decision about their future together. He demanded an answer.
One night after praying long and hard before the statue of the baby Jesus that held her engagement ring on its finger, Dorothy was overcome with grief and frustration. She loved Tom but he was pushing her too hard, these decisions were coming at her too fast. To her it seemed her life was spiraling out of control. She was frantic, and the pressure was too much for her fragile mind. She ran up to her small room that was just above the chapel and in manic frustration she committed suicide by hanging herself from a light fixture.
Soon apparitions of a nun were seen throughout the Old Main Tower area of the College. She seemed to be wandering the chapel grounds as if looking for something. Students would see her in their dorms-walking the hall or her reflection behind them in a mirror. Some said there was an uneasy presence in the room that adjoined the two chapels, the same room where the baby Jesus statue still held Dorothy’s engagement ring. This activity went on undisturbed for years, until in the 1950’s a disturbing incident occurred.
A young female student had seen the ring on the statues finger and had taken it to play a prank on her boyfriend. Their relationship had been a long distance one since she came to attend Mercyhurst but they were still committed to each other and he visited every weekend. They had been talking about marriage but he had cold feet and was stalling to pop the question. So this young lady took Dorothy’s ring to fool her boyfriend into thinking someone else had beat him to the punch, and hopefully spur him into making his own proposal. She called him on the phone to tell him she had something very important to talk about and would meet him halfway between the college and their hometown. But on her way to meet him she died in a particularly bizarre and violent freak accident on the highway.
Her friends were sure it was because of the ring. And word rapidly spread throughout the college community that the Ghost Nun’s ring was cursed. It is rumored that College officials were also terrified of the possible curse on account of the various paranormal activities that had manifest itself campus wide since her suicide. They decided the best thing to do was to bury Dorothy’s ring in a secret location on campus so no one else could fall victim to the curse.
The Cursed ring is buried, and no one else in all these passing years have been exposed to its blight. But the ghostly activities of the suicidal nun did not stop with the burial of the engagement ring. To this day students and staff have the occasional run in with the forlorn spirit of Dorothy.
Here is a letter from a former student:
I went to Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA in 1995 - 1996 and I left in the fall when my father died. Anyway, I lived in Egan Hall, which is connected to Old Main and the chapel and I saw the nun and her antics almost daily in the fall of 1996. I saw her reflection in the bathroom windows at night. She often opened and closed windows and doors, turned faucets and radios on and flushed the toilets for hours on end. I was frightened at first but my room mate (a very down to earth and logical girl) told me a friend of hers who lived on the boys' floor saw the sister every morning around 4:00am when he got up for crew practice and that she was only there to look out for us. I also used to see a blue orb floating from the chapel through old main when I was coming back from the computer lab late at night. Other students had seen the orb originate from a small statue in the chapel and a figure had been seen in the organ loft as well. I have heard that the path between campus and the new convent is haunted but I can't verify that.
Confused and heartbroken the spirit of Dorothy still roams the Campus of Mercyhurst College. Does she still look for answers while traversing the twilight between worlds? Or is she stuck in a state of limbo because the violent death she suffered at her own hands? We will never know for sure but the apparition of the nun has never gone away.
And many students who walk over the small green island in the middle of East Main Drive which lies in front of Weber Hall swear that they immediately suffer bad luck. Could this be where Dorothy’s ring lies awaiting another victim? Or is it coincidence?
If you visit Mercyhurst College in Erie Pennsylvania be sure to visit Christ the King’s Chapel in the Old Main Tower section of the campus. Go to the altar and turn left to go into the Queens chapel: It is a dark blue chapel that when visiting in the dark can be most unnerving. But before you enter the Queens chapel, look to your left at the statue of the baby Jesus of Prague adorned in kingly garb. He holds his two fingers up in the air as a blessing. If you look closely you can see some strange markings on the fingers that look as if a ring had left indentations on them.
Then go into the Queens chapel and pray for Dorothy. May her soul one day find rest.
Rev. Robin Swope is a Writer and has been a Christian Minister for more than 17 years in both Mainline and Evangelical Denominations. He holds a B.A. in Biblical Literature and finishing an M.Div. in Pastoral Ministry. He has served as a Missionary to Burkina Faso, and has Ministered to the homeless in New York City's Hell's Kitchen. He is the founder and chief officiant of Open Gate Ministerial Services and a Church Council member and pulpit minister of St.Paul's United Church of Christ in Erie. He is currently writing his third book, “Ushered Through the Veil” that highlights supernatural phenomena accompanying death such as phone calls from the dead and angelic visitation. http://theparanormalpastor.blogspot.com/