Proclaiming Jesus through education and Christian formation.

Sisters in Ministry December 2011
Sister Helen Smith: Planting seeds of faith wherever she serves

Sister Helen gathers with some of the second-grade students at Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kan., who will be receiving the sacrament of reconciliation in January.

Update: Sister Helen Smith completed her tenure at Church of the Nativity in 2017. She continues in Kansas as the Paola property manager and in November 2016, was elected to the Ursuline Leadership Council.

Over the next few years, she would serve on the leadership Council that guided their community members to study, reflect and decide that the best solution to the community’s dwindling numbers was to merge with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. While about half of the 23 sisters from Paola moved to Kentucky, Sister Helen agreed to remain in Paola, about 45 minutes south of Kansas City, until the convent sold.

More than three years since the merger was completed in October 2008, she is still living in the huge building, along with Sister Kathleen Condry, who was superior when the merger occurred. But both of the lifelong educators are using their talents in parish ministry at the Church of the Nativity in the Kansas City suburb of Leawood.

“I’m doing sacramental preparation work with children and teens for the reception of the sacraments of reconciliation, first Eucharist and confirmation,” as well as Vacation Bible School, Sister Helen said. Sacramental preparation isn’t new to her, because she oversaw the students’ formation when she was a principal in Catholic schools.

Sister Helen, right, goes over a sacramental preparation matter with Joyce Didde, left, office manager for Christian formation at Church of the Nativity, and Coleen Pech, director of religious education.

“It’s a big pleasure to be working directly with children again,” she said. She enjoys children of all ages but is especially fond of those who are middle school age.

“I think it’s the children’s spontaneity, their ability to get excited about their faith, even if they can’t voice it that energizes me,” she said. “There’s so much wisdom and humor that comes out of their mouths. I’ve been taught a lot of things by the children with whom I’ve worked. The older students can come up with their own ideas and blow me away.”

Sister Kathleen began working at Church of the Nativity in September 2009 as pastoral minister, and asked Sister Helen to handle sacramental preparation part time in October 2010. Sister Helen was happy to be involved in parish work, but the move was bittersweet because she was replacing Peggy Schrick, who died of cancer. They had worked closely together for several years at Holy Cross Church.

“Sister Helen not only knows, but lives the Catholic faith,” said Father Francis Hund, the pastor at Nativity. “I was privileged some 25-30 years ago to prepare the homily for her profession at the Ursuline Motherhouse in Paola.I remember that I used a story about planting seeds, and that truly is what Sister Helen has done through all the years I have known her.

She plants the seeds of faith, love and joy through her creativity, her gentle presence, her wisdom and experience of teaching and leading for many, many years,” he said.“Whether it’s developing a ‘Saints Treasure Search,’ or the reconciliation service for the second-graders, or the commissioning celebration for the confirmation candidates, she uses her creativity and organization to invite the young folks into the mystery of God.”

Sister Kathleen said Sister Helen’s skills as a teacher have transferred well to parish ministry. “Several parents at Nativity have commented to me that they have learned a lot about their own faith from Sister Helen’s parent sessions, which are intended to help them prepare their children for the sacraments,” Sister Kathleen said. “I know that it’s the same winning combination she always used as a classroom teacher: she is very intentional about what she does, she is super-prepared, she drills and reviews and she makes it creative and personal. She really is an amazing teacher.”

Sister Kathleen Dueber served in leadership with Sister Helen, and is now on the leadership Council at Maple Mount. “Sister Helen is the most creative, self-giving person I’ve ever met,” Sister Kathleen said. “She doesn’t like the limelight, she’d rather be behind the scenes. She’s so creative about coming up with religious education ideas.”

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