Ursuline Sister Helena Fischer comes from a family where several members chose religious life. But it was the lessons and inspiration she received from the Ursuline Sisters in her youth that convinced her that religious life was for her.
She was born Helen Marie Fischer in the small farming community of Rome, on the outskirts of Owensboro, Ky., about 15 minutes from Maple Mount.
“There were nine children growing up on the farm, we all had to help out,” she said. Her father Robert was a farmer, and the family raised tobacco, corn and wheat, along with small amounts of livestock. Her mother Audrey raised the children.
“The things we grew up with were the importance of prayer, our faith, and trust in God,” Sister Helena said. “We had the rosary together every night. I was taught that you honor your word, don’t say you’re going to do something unless you do it.”
All the Fischer children attended St. Martin Parish School in Rome. The parish priest was Father Joseph Saffer, the principal was Ursuline Sister Ethel Sims and Sister Helena’s first-grade teacher was Sister Marita Greenwell. In the middle grades she had Sister Leander Burch. All those sisters are now deceased.
“Mom and Dad always had a bag of vegetables or some meat to send over to the priests and sisters,” she said.
After St. Martin, Sister Ethel arranged for Sister Helena to get a scholarship as a boarding student at Mount Saint Joseph Academy.
“I was able to work in the chapel with Sister Louis Bertrand (Thompson). She was so sweet to work with,” Sister Helena said. “I’d dust all the kneelers and clean the floors. It was such a peaceful place.”
During her Academy days she learned some lessons that would last a lifetime. “We had crusades where we saved stamps and made rosaries to pass on,” she said. “What we do in community now is an extension of what we learned then — save what you can, and help others.”
Commitment to religious life was common in Sister Helena’s extended family. She was a cousin to the late Ursuline Sisters Fran Wilhelm, Mary Edgar Warren and Ancilla Marie Warren. Her cousin, Sister Marie Thompson, was a Sister of Mercy, and two cousins were priests.
Her thoughts about becoming a sister began in grade school, she said. “We were around the sisters so much, we knew the sisters,” she said. “My cousins who were older were sisters, I knew what religious life was. I knew that Mom and Dad respected the religious life. We considered it a gift.”
It was during her senior year that it became clear that she should enter religious life, she said. “I talked to the retreat master, and Sister Joseph Therese Thompson, the principal, set up an appointment with the superior. My family wasn’t surprised.”
She entered as a postulant with a large class in 1960, which included several of her Academy classmates, including Sisters Julia Head, Kathleen Kaelin, Nancy Murphy and Rose Marita O’Bryan.
“It helped to enter with many of my classmates,” Sister Helena said. “We were the second class to have a juniorate, to get our degrees before we began ministry. It was really a gift.”
When it was time to choose her religious name, there was already a Sister Mary Helen and a Sister Helen Marie. Although her mother went by her middle name of Audrey, her first name was Helena, so that is what Sister Helena chose.
Sister Helena spent 22 years as a teacher or principal before beginning her ministry in the registrar’s office at Brescia University in 1987. She has been registrar since 1990, adapting to the changes in college admissions with the on-campus and online classes.
“My family talks about all of the places they have visited because of my being an Ursuline Sister,” Sister Helena said.