Sister Helen Smith, 73, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, died Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, at Mount Saint Joseph, in her 42nd year of religious life. She was a native of Bartlesville, Okla.
Sister Helen was a creative woman, from her beautiful knitting to developing spiritual programs for the children who she loved to lead into the mystery of God. She was an Ursuline Sister of Paola, Kan., prior to the merger with Mount Saint Joseph. She graduated from Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in education and earned a master’s degree from the University of Kansas in educational administration.
Sister Helen served in Kansas as a teacher at Queen of the Holy Rosary, Overland Park (1979-80, 1982-83), and St. John School, Greeley (1981-82). She was principal and teacher at Holy Trinity School, Paola (1983-94), and principal at Holy Cross School, Overland Park (1994-2000) and Holy Rosary-Wea School, Bucyrus (2000-2005). She was elected as a councilor for the Ursuline Sisters of Paola from 1990-98 and from 2002-2006. She was assistant superior from 2006-2008, until the merger with the Ursuline community in Maple Mount. Sister Helen was director of sacramental preparation for children and youth at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kan., from 2010 until moving to Maple Mount in 2018. She was property manager in Paola from 2009-2018. She was elected as a councilor for the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph in 2016, and this year began serving as manager of the Mount Saint Joseph Gift Shop.
Survivors include the members of her religious community, her brother James D. Smith of Jenks, Okla., and four nephews.
The funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Mount Saint Joseph, where visitation will begin Thursday at 4 p.m., with a wake service following at 6:30 p.m.
Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory, Owensboro, is handling arrangements.
Donations in memory of Sister Helen may be made to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, 8001 Cummings Road, Maple Mount, KY 42356.
Remembrance of Sister Helen Smith, OSU
September 5, 2019
Sister Amelia Stenger, OSU
In looking for a quote to describe Sister Helen, this one by Charles Lint, fit very well. He says, “Every time you do a good deed, you shine a light a little farther into the dark. And the thing is, when you’re gone, that light is going to keep shining on, pushing the shadows back.” Sister Helen did many good deeds and her light will continue to shine. She brightened many lives during her time on earth.
On the evening of September 2, 2019, God called Sister Helen home to be with her parents, brother, Francis, our Ursuline Saints and many of the people she taught over the years. Sister had spent seven weeks in the hospital and decided that she wanted to come home. She now shines with all the stars who have left a path for us.
Helen Pauline Smith was born on August 6, 1946 in Bartlesville, OK. Her parents were David Thomas Smith and Mary Elizabeth Boltz Smith. She had two brothers, Francis T. Smith who is deceased and James D. Smith who is unable to be with us. James and his wife, Louanne, are with us on the live stream. We offer you our prayers. It was so good that all of you were together for the funeral of your brother, Francis, earlier this year. Sister was very happy that she was able to spend that time with you.
Helen grew up in Bartlesville, OK, just across the Kansas state line. Bartlesville is best known as the longtime home of Phillips Petroleum Co., now ConocoPhillips. Her dad grew up on a farm in Kansas City but followed the plant to Bartlesville after a large flood destroyed their farmland. Her Mom was born in Ohio and her Dad moved the family to Oklahoma to work with the oil wells. David and Mary Elizabeth met in Oklahoma, married and began their family.
Her family attended St. John’s Church where Helen was baptized on September 15, 1946. Later, on May 26, 1957, she was also confirmed at St. John’s Church.
Helen met the Ursuline Sisters when she started school at St. John Catholic School in Bartlesville. Her dad was the person the sisters called when something needed to be fixed. She often got to go with him when he had a job to do for them and Helen would visit with the Sisters while her dad worked. Sister Helen Hermrick taught her to play the piano in the convent and she got to know some of the other Sisters while her mom was leading the Cub Scouts in the parish hall next to the convent. “I can remember in second grade talking about becoming a sister,” she said. “It was probably a result of all the contact I had with the sisters.”
Sister Helen attended Ursuline Academy, the boarding school run by the Ursuline Sisters in Paola. She was an excellent student. In the Academy Awards brochure for 1964, the year she graduated, her name was listed with five other young women who were in the Upper one-tenth in Kansas High School Senior Comprehensive Examinations. She was also the Senior Runner up for All-Round Ursuline Academy Girl.
After she graduated from high school, she fulfilled the words she said when she was in second grade and entered the Ursuline Community in Paola. She became a novice in January 1965 and was scheduled to make her temporary vows in January of 1967.
She said that shortly before she made vows it struck her that she didn’t know if she really wanted to make vows. Her questioning of her vocation led her to leave in January of 1967 instead of making vows.
When she left the community, she worked in a number of different jobs. She had a job in a hotel, the YWCA, a restaurant preparing food and as a waitress. She took some classes through Oklahoma State University and talked to a counselor about what career path to take. She got a National Defense Loan and a grant and went to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. She loved the idea of teaching and began her classes to become a teacher.
She received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Oklahoma State University in 1972. She received a Master of Science in Educational Administration from the University of Kansas in 1987. She received other post graduate work and religious education from Avila College, Benedictine College, St. Mary College, Kansas State University and Emporia State University.
When she finished her course work in Education, her brother Francis told her about a job on the Choctaw Indian reservation in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he and his wife also worked. She said, “When I got there, they needed a director for a new reading lab in the elementary building, so I was the director. It was a real learning experience but a valuable one.”
During her time there she met adults who couldn’t read, she experienced the mistreatment of minorities and sometimes their mistreatment of each other. She said there was a movie house in the town that practiced segregation by offering balcony seats for one-third the price. That is all the Indian and Black children could afford. She said, “Things like this were real lessons to me on the evils of what we can do to each other, that everyone deserves to have dignity and a fair shake.”
In 1972 she left the Choctaw school and got a job teaching fourth grade at Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park, Kansas. She taught at this school until 1979. It was during this time that she received a letter from Sister Aurelia Sullivan who was a good friend. The letter said, “Have you thought about coming back?” Helen said she started thinking about it and hoped to have some sign that would help her make the decision. Her father had died, and she was worried about leaving her mom. One day her Mom came to her and said she was thinking about moving in with Helen’s brother. That was the sign she needed. She talked with the community leadership and they told her they would welcome her back. She re-entered the Ursuline Community on August 15, 1979 while still teaching at Queen of the Holy Rosary.
Sister Kathleen Condry was the principal at Queen of the Holy Rosary and Father Francis Hund was the pastor. Sister Kathleen said, “She is one of the most effective teachers I have ever seen. She takes it seriously. She plans way ahead and knows exactly what she wants the students to learn and they know exactly what she wants them to do.” Father Francis Hund added, “Sister plants the seeds of faith, love and joy through her creativity, her gentle presence, her wisdom and experience of teaching and leading.”
After another year of teaching at Queen of the Holy Rosary, she moved to St. John School in Greeley, Kansas for a year before she made final vows. She wanted to have another community mission experience to broaden her life in community.
In 1983 she became principal and teacher of Holy Trinity School in Paola which was very close to the Ursuline Convent. Being in charge of a small school required that Sister Helen wear many hats. She worked on revising the curriculum, getting the building in good order and helped the students form a baseball team. When they couldn’t find one, she became the baseball coach. She worked with the Kansas State Athletics Association to develop a more formal sports program. She felt this was not her greatest strength, so she enlisted Sister Dee Long to help her.
She worked at Holy Trinity until 1994 when she got a call from Holy Cross in Overland Park, Kansas. When she went to visit the school there was a sign across the street that said, “Please come, Sister Helen.” She couldn’t refuse so she left the small school of 100 students at Holy Trinity and broadened her perspective with a school of 400 students at Holy Cross.
Sister Helen was able to do many things. During her time at Holy Cross, the parish of Holy Rosary at Wea, Kansas, wanted to reopen their school that had closed in 1972. So, while being principal at Holy Cross, she also took over as Principal at Holy Rosary school. Being principal at one school is hard enough but being principal at two schools at one time is really asking for a backache. She was successful in working with both faculties until she moved full time to Holy Rosary. When Sister Pat was going through some things, she found a little red box and in the box were small pieces of cloth that the children from Holy Cross had made for her when she was leaving that school for Holy Rosary. They were probably for a quilt. One of them gives a great description of Sister Helen. It says:
“Sister Helen, our principal, is really cool. We wish she wasn’t leaving our school.
She taught us to love and care for others, to be kind and respectful to our sisters and brothers.
She told us to live by the Golden Rule. It’s important to be peaceful instead of cruel.
Sister Helen, you are a shining star. We hope that someday we’re as good as you are.
We’ve all enjoyed you and think you’re so cool. We wish you good luck as you start your new school.”
Mrs. Anderson’s Fourth Grade.
In 2005 she decided to leave principalship. She did leave one kind of leadership but took on another when she was elected as Assistant superior for the Ursuline community in Paola in 2006. She had been elected to the council earlier in 2002 so this was her second term in leadership. During this time there was much discussion about what they would do in the future and the community made the decision to merge with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph in Kentucky. We are very glad they did.
From 2008 to 2018 Sister Helen lived at the Paola Motherhouse taking care of the buildings. She also worked with the sacramental programs at Nativity Parish beginning in 2010. She enjoyed working with the children in the religious education programs.
In 2016 she was elected to the Council here at the Mount. Sister Kathleen Condry who had been on the Council, died and there had to be an election to replace the position. Sister Helen was elected as a counselor and served well from Kansas. Every Wednesday, the Council would have a Zoom meeting with her in Kansas while the rest of us were here in our meeting room at the Mount. We were happy to have her here at the Mount for the past year. Little did we know that she would become so ill.
Her last weeks in the hospital were not easy for her. She wanted so badly to lower the liters of oxygen she was receiving but instead of lowering them, they had to be increased. Last week she made the decision to come home. She wanted to be with her sisters.
When Sister Helen was moving from Holy Cross school to Holy Rosary, an article was written in the Holy Cross Triumph newsletter. In the Article Sister Helen said, “I have always believed that God calls each of us to give our gifts where we are and in return we are gifted by those with whom we live and work.” Over the years, she has truly shared her gifts with so many. We have been blessed by her wisdom and giftedness.
Sister Helen, we thank you for your gifts, your blessings, the jokes, the beautiful crafts and our gift bag, Henry. You may be gone from our sight, but your light is going to keep shining on. We will try to pass that light on in your name. Breathe Easy.