Ursuline Sister Helen Smith was elected as the newest member of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph Leadership Council on Nov. 5, 2016.
Sister Helen, who previously served as assistant superior of the Ursuline Sisters of Paola, Kan., prior to its 2008 merger with Mount Saint Joseph, fills a Council position created by the Sept. 5, 2016, death of her longtime friend Sister Kathleen Condry.
Sister Kathleen took office as assistant congregational leader on July 17, 2016, but her health quickly failed. At the special election on Nov. 5, Sister Pat Lynch, who took office as a councilor on July 17, was approved as the new assistant congregational leader. Sister Helen will take Sister Pat’s spot as a councilor. She was officially installed shortly after the voting.
Since October 2010, Sister Helen has handled sacramental preparation work with children and teenagers at Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City. She plans to complete her ministry there in May 2017, and in the interim will meet with the other Council members via the Internet.
Prior to the merger, Sister Helen was responsible for the buildings and grounds at Paola. Sister Helen remained in Paola following the merger awaiting the sale of the convent property, which has yet to occur. Sister Kathleen, who was superior at the time of the merger, also remained in Paola.
Sister Helen grew up in Bartlesville, Okla., just across the Kansas state line. She met the Ursuline Sisters when she attended St. John Catholic School, which the Ursulines of Paola started in Bartlesville.
Sister Helen attended Ursuline Academy, the boarding school run by the sisters in Paola. She joined the Ursulines after graduating from the Academy in 1964. She became a novice in January 1965, and was scheduled to make her temporary vows in January 1967, but she suddenly felt uncertain, and decided to leave the community that month.
She became a teacher, and in 1972 began teaching fourth grade at Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park, Kan., where Ursulines taught. She taught there as a lay person until 1979. Leaving the Ursuline community had been such a difficult thing for her to do, she told herself she would not consider returning without something monumental happening, she said in her 2011 Sister in Ministry article.
“Sister Aurelia Sullivan was a good friend of mine, she always thought I’d done the right thing in leaving,” Sister Helen said in 2011. “One day I got a letter from her saying, ‘Have you ever thought about coming back?’ Her change in attitude was that monumental event and I began thinking about returning.”
Sister Helen was also concerned about her mother because her father had died. Her mother told her she was considering moving in with Sister Helen’s brother, so another barrier was removed.
“Then I talked to the community leadership and they told me that I would be welcomed back with open arms,” Sister Helen said. “They even decided I had completed the novitiate experience, and prepared a re-entry process for me instead.” She re-entered the Ursulines on Aug. 15, 1979, still teaching at Queen of the Holy Rosary. She will celebrate 40 years as an Ursuline Sister in 2017.
Sister Helen was a teacher or principal in Kansas until 2005. From 1990-98 she was an elected Council member in Paola, and was elected again in 2002 and 2006. The last time she served as assistant superior.
She joins a Council that includes Sister Amelia Stenger as congregational leader, Sister Pat as assistant congregational leader, and Sisters Pam Mueller and Judith Nell Riney as councilors.