Sister Helena Fischer: Embracing change as an Ursuline calling

Sister Helena and Carol Jackson have worked together in the registrar’s office since 1995. Other than a work study student, they make up the entire staff.

Adapting to change is ingrained in the Ursuline Sisters, from the words of Saint Angela Merici herself in her Last Legacy: “And if, according to times and circumstances, the need arises to make new rules or do something differently, do it prudently and with good advice.”

Perhaps that’s why Sister Helena Fischer is so at home in her ministry as registrar of Brescia University, where the one thing she can expect is change.

“We have to keep changing to provide what students expect,” said Sister Helena, now in her 23rd year in the registrar’s office, the past 20 as director. “We’ve gone to online report cards and transcripts.” The university has completed scanning every transcript in Brescia history, as well as those from the Mount Saint Joseph Junior College that began in 1925, so they can all be accessed via computer. She just instructed the faculty on an online program that will help chart a student’s progress toward a degree, which she hopes to offer to students soon.

“It used to be, students expected to register and get their grades,” she said. “Now students expect the answer yesterday. They are so used to computers and cell phones giving them instant answers. (Brescia President) Father Larry (Hostetter) really stresses that we are here to serve the students’ needs.”

The students could not be in better hands than Sister Helena’s, said Carol Jackson, who has been the academic records assistant in the registrar’s office since 1995.

“She knows every bit of this job. Anything people need, they know to go to her,” Jackson said. “She’s really helpful if I need her. She’s a great boss.”

The biggest change over the years is the advancement in computers, Jackson said. “When I started, we had a computer so slow that it would take 10 minutes to register the student,” Jackson said. “Sister Helena worked on getting it upgraded, because she knew what this office needed.”

Online courses have added a new wrinkle to the registrar’s role. Just in the social work program, Brescia has gone from nine online students two years ago to 91 now, said Keith Hudson, the new associate academic dean. There are two online students who are on active military duty in Afghanistan and Germany, Sister Helena said.

“Sister Helena is an absolute jewel to work with,” Hudson said. “She works well under stress, and she just has a wonderful sense of humor.”

Sister Helena, center, is joined by Sister Marie Joseph Coomes, left, and Sister Rose Jean Powers in saying the Liturgy of the Hours near the tabernacle in the Brescia University Chapel. They say their morning prayers after the 7 a.m. Mass concludes.

Hudson works with online classes in his new role at Brescia, and said Sister Helena’s vast knowledge as a registrar allows the university to handle multiple issues that arise.

“She absolutely promotes the team concept,” Hudson said. “She’s one of my favorite people on campus.”

The registrar is in charge of completing all the class schedules and getting them approved through the division chairs. Sister Helena also works with the coaches and athletic director because she must certify that the students have a high enough grade point average to compete. Working with the athletic department led to her enjoyment of attending Brescia athletic competitions, especially volleyball and basketball, she said.

She also works with Veterans Affairs students who are due money for school based on their military service, and she handles the documentation for teacher certification. The most fun part of her job is graduation, she said.

Sister Helena came to Brescia in 1987 as assistant registrar to Sister Alfreda Malone, and as director of institutional research. She became registrar in 1990 when Sister Alfreda retired.

“I consider it from day to day you do whatever needs to be done,” Sister Helena said. “Almost every student comes here to register, so it gives us the chance to meet the students.”