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

Branching out

For three years beginning in 1989, Sister Dorothy studied spirituality at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. In 1992, she took six months off to care for her dying mother. Her father had died in 1981.

“I was very grateful to do it for her,” she said. “My mother was so worried that I’d left the convent. I told her I was still a sister.” Her mother died in January 1993.

From there she began working at Liguori Publications in Liguori, Mo., a job she would have for the next 10 years. The publisher knew her well – it was Fr. Santa.

“He said, ‘You’re just what we need. I want you to be the one to bring about community,’” Sister Dorothy said. “I talked to everybody. I proofread all the stuff, did some telemarketing and some layout.”

Fr. Santa, now the director of the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson, Ariz., said he hired Sister Dorothy mostly for her people skills and her sense of mission.

“The marketing staff was very large and very unsettled, unsure how to function within the Catholic world of pastoral need,” Fr. Santa said. “Dorothy stepped in and helped focus them on the mission, but also helped them become a more cohesive team. She was well loved by a very diverse group of people who made up the department.

Sister Dorothy welcomes Sister Celine Leeker from Paola, Kan., to Maple Mount in May 2009.

“I also paid close attention to her observations about the mood and the feeling of the publishing house since it was a time of change and it was quite stressful for many,” Fr. Santa said. “I found that she often knew exactly what to say and how to encourage someone to make a better contribution. I am pleased to count Sister Dorothy as one of my friends.”

More change ahead

When Sister Mary Ellen’s term came to an end in 1995, there was no one to become superior, Sister Dorothy said, so she was elected again. “The bishop said ‘She has to stay in until she gets it right,’” Sister Dorothy said with a laugh.

The talk of merging the Ursulines of Belleville began when Mount Saint Joseph leadership was asked if the senior Belleville sisters could come to Saint Joseph Villa, the infirmary opened in 2002, Sister Dorothy said.

“We felt we were closer to (Mount Saint Joseph) than the Roman Union Sisters,” she said. “I knew Mount Saint Joseph Sisters from the (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) and Ursuline Society. They were open to us, we felt we were welcome.”

The summer of the merger, Sister Nancy Murphy arrived from Maple Mount to take over as local coordinator in Belleville. “They needed Nancy Murphy to be coordinator, I was worn out,” Sister Dorothy said.

There were just 10 sisters left in 2005, when the merger took place. “I was working so much, I didn’t worry about keeping my spirits up,” Sister Dorothy said. “Then I got a heart problem.”

She healed quickly from her heart procedure in 2007. That year she began ministering in hospitality at the Our Lady of the Snows reception desk, which she did until earlier this year.

“Someone asked me how I healed so fast,” Sister Dorothy said. “I said, ‘Because I was loved.’”

That’s one more piece of evidence to prove she’s an Ursuline Sister.

By Dan Heckel