Sister Dorothy Helbling, OSU: Making the light of Christ shine

Sister in Ministry Update:

As of November 2011, Sister Dorothy Helbling retired from her ministries in Belleville, Ill., and currently serves on the powerhouse of prayer at the Ursuline motherhouse in Maple Mount, Ky.

Sister Dorothy at the Peace Chapel in Mt. Carmel Cemetery, where she gathers with the Ursuline Associates in Belleville, Ill.

A hallmark of Christianity is service to those who are struggling or less fortunate. An Ursuline trademark is hospitality, and treating everyone as an individual.

It really shouldn’t be a surprise that Sister Dorothy Helbling has been ministering as an Ursuline Sister for 62 years, given the way Sister Frances McDonagh describes her.

“She always looks out for the person who needs help,” Sister Frances said. “She’s a people person, she has a lot of connections with different people.”

Sister Frances recalled that in the 1970s, it was Sister Dorothy who urged her to get a degree in religious studies so she could start a new ministry in the parishes. “She came with me to St. Louis University to see I got the training I needed,” Sister Frances said. “She is always concerned with the individual when she learns your need.”

If that weren’t enough evidence that Sister Dorothy was born to be an Ursuline, Sister Frances also notes “she loves playing cards.”

Sister Dorothy’s years in ministry have included being a decorated high school math teacher in her native North Dakota, a retreat director, the first general superior of the former Ursuline Sisters of Belleville, Ill., and now an ongoing presence to the Ursuline Associates and other friends the sisters befriended in Belleville.

“She brought the spirit of Saint Ursula and the charism of the Ursuline Sisters to Belleville,” said Joe Hubbard, who’s known Sister Dorothy for about 35 years. “She has the spirit of loving, caring, and reaching out to people. She’s a very light person,” Hubbard said. “I’ll run into someone who’ll say, ‘I just saw Sister Dorothy, she really perked me up.’”

Hubbard is the founder of Catholic Urban Programs in Belleville, an all-purpose charitable organization. He’s known Sister Dorothy since he was a young man working with St. Vincent DePaul and helping out at the Belleville convent.

“She’s just a wonderful lady,” Hubbard said. “She takes my brother out to eat once a week, he’s 82. I call her about issues, or she calls me. We really have become sort of a family.”

Sister Dorothy takes her vision impaired friend Roberta Noble to church each Sunday, and on errands she needs.

Sister Dorothy has a deep spirituality, Hubbard said. “She has a glow about her. She has a very positive attitude even about negative things,” he said. “Her strong spirituality has allowed her to work through some hardships. She’s a very prayerful person.”

Sister Dorothy is one of only four Ursuline Sisters still living in the Belleville area, but Hubbard said Ursulines will continue to be known there for their hospitality and spirituality.

“Sister Dorothy makes the light of Christ shine through her,” he said.

Sister Dorothy served her last term as general superior of the Ursulines of Belleville until 2005, when the 10 remaining sisters merged with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. These days she continues to minister to the Ursuline Auxiliary in Belleville, leads the music at a scripture class on Sunday night, and takes her vision impaired friend Roberta Noble to church on Sunday, and to lunch.

“I have a big group I write to with e-mail,” she said. “I visit two nursing homes that have auxiliary members.” She meets with about 12 Ursuline Associates at the Peace Chapel at Mt. Carmel Cemetery, where 24 sisters are buried.

“It’s important to keep a presence here,” she said. “If I go to a funeral, I say, ‘I’m representing the Ursulines.’ That’s why I’m adamant about staying, we’ve been friends with these people since 1945. It means so much when you show up for a wake.”