Wake Reflection for Sr. Helen Hermreck, OSU
Helen Margaret Hermreck: musician, teacher, novice mistress, devoted family member, gardener, RCIA director, storyteller, nature-lover, champion of special education, prayer leader, flower arranger extraordinaire.
She was a brilliant woman who seemed to be interested in just about everything. She was an adventurous woman who seemed to be willing to give anything a try. She was a holy woman who knew for certain that there is nothing more important in this world than giving glory to God and spreading the gospel, that all might know, love, and serve the Lord. Indeed, she spent her life in service of the Lord.
Helen grew up in Scipio, KS and joined the Ursuline Sisters in Paola when she was just 15 years old. It must have been very hard for this teenager when her parents arrived at the convent one visitors’ day and told her that her dad had a new job in California and the entire family would be moving out there. Did Helen want to go? It must have been even harder on the parents, to hear their daughter say “No, I belong here at Ursuline now. You all go – I’ll be okay.”
She was received into the novitiate as Sister Mary Alberta and never looked back.
Sister Alberta began her ministry at Ursuline Academy where she taught music for 9 years. She continued her music ministry in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where she taught grades 1-8 at St. John’s for 8 years. Students remember taking piano lessons in the convent, where there were several rooms full of pianos and a student on each bench, all playing at the same time. Sister Alberta would glide from room to room, quietly admonishing, praising, and coaching. If you felt her presence lingering near your piano for too long, you knew that she was zeroing in on your particular offending notes or tempo!
In 1957 Sister returned to the Motherhouse in Paola to serve as Mistress of Novices until 1963. While she was known as a strict taskmaster, the novices benefited from her creativity and her many varied hobbies and interests. They quickly learned that “I don’t know how to do it” wasn’t going to be an acceptable answer – because Helen believed that a person could figure out how to do anything if you just worked at it for a little while.
Her next mission was Holy Name School in Kansas City, KS where she taught for just one year before going away to study. God was calling her to be part of a special plan that He had in mind: Lakemary Center, a school where special needs children would have the chance to blossom, reach beyond their disabilities and follow their dreams. Sister Helen earned degrees in Special Education and in 1968 became the first Executive Director of Lakemary Center in Paola. While the buildings were still under construction, she and her initial staff worked in an apartment of Monica Hall on the Ursuline grounds, planning, purchasing, organizing – preparing for the opening of Lakemary Center of Special Education in June of 1969.
In December of 1969, God called Helen to respond to another special need, this one more personal and demanding. Her parents needed her to come out to California to care for them. But the seeds she had sown, the dreams she had dreamed for Lakemary – of individual programming, pre-vocational training, and social adjustment – can be seen today. Lakemary continues to flourish and has expanded to provide a complete array of services for children and adults with special needs.
Out in California, Sister Helen would continue to work in the field of Special Education for the next 11 years, touching the lives of countless young people and their grateful families.
In 1980 she retired from teaching and accepted a position as Pastoral Minister at St. Patrick’s Parish in Placerville, California, where she shared her gift of faith in a beautiful way for the next 25 years. Her jobs were many and varied. At one point she wrote of her ministry at St. Patrick’s, “…(I am guided by) Saint Angela, who says, ‘Do what has to be done. I give glory to God and help his people by ministering to the poor, sick, homebound, and elderly, and by journeying with those developing their faith in practice in the RCIA.”
In her gracious way Helen touched many hearts and souls with God’s love – and she did it with a quiet, gentle joy that made those around her feel peaceful and secure. One priest from the Diocese of Sacramento wrote to Sr. Helen for her Jubilee and put it this way: “As a young priest, I was privileged to witness your example…you always (ministered) with such joy, love, and patience that I was inspired more than you can ever know.”
As her health began to fail, Sister Helen very reluctantly retired to the convent in Paola, maintaining her relationships with family members and parishioners in California while quickly re-integrating herself into life in Kansas. Then in January 2009, she bravely and joyfully boarded a little private airplane and — ever the pioneer — was the first Paola Ursuline to arrive at Mount Saint Joseph and become part of the community here.
These past two years have been happy, peaceful ones for Helen. We are grateful to the staff at the Villa for giving her such loving, attentive care, and to all of the Sisters who provided companionship and friendship.
Sister Helen loved life and lived it to the fullest, never wanting to waste a moment or an opportunity. She always seemed to understand, however, that this life was only a stopping place on a very important journey. She was once asked, “What is the most important thing you have learned from being an Ursuline Sister?” Helen’s answer went right to the heart of the matter, as usual. “I have learned that my life belongs to God!”
So now, dear Helen, we send you back to God, with grateful hearts for your years among us. May you rest forever in peace and joy with the One Who Loves Us All.
Sister Kathleen Condry, OSU
March 29, 2011