Sister Helena Fischer: Embracing change as an Ursuline calling

With an enrollment approaching 700 this year, Sister Helena is able to offer a personal touch that larger schools may not. “If a teacher says a student isn’t showing up for class, we call the student,” she said. “Some students will come by and say ‘hi.’”

Sister Helena will celebrate 50 years as an Ursuline Sister in 2011, and finds herself ministering at Brescia with one of her classmates, Sister Rose Marita O’Bryan.

Sister Helena and Sister Barbara Jean Head, left, use this window sill to raise violets to sell in the Mount picnic plant booth.

“Sister Helena is one of the most steadfast and conscientious persons I know,” said Sister Rose Marita, who leads the Contemporary Woman program. “Sister Helena is insightful and has a heart of tenderness. She is a calming influence in the storms and stresses of living.”

For the past 21 years, Sister Helena has lived on the Brescia campus with Sister Rose Jean Powers.

“She’s a very dedicated person, very focused, and supportive of the community,” Sister Rose Jean said. “She’s a very detailed person. She’ll catch a lot of things that other people would miss. She’s very supportive of her family and mindful of the needs of other people.”

Sister Helena has ministered in big cities and tiny communities over her nearly 50 years as a sister, and said she has had a chance to grow in many ways.

“The gift I thought I was giving to be a religious has been a gift to me, in being in community and learning about faith and sharing,” she said.

When in Rome

Sister Helena was born Helen Marie Fischer in the small farming community of Rome, on the outskirts of Owensboro, Ky., about 15 minutes from Maple Mount.

“My brother still lives on the home place. There were nine children growing up on the farm, we all had to help out,” she said. She’s right in the middle of seven girls and two boys. One of her brothers, Bernard Joseph, is deceased.

She gets a smile on her face when she hears the theme song to “The Andy Griffith Show,” because she thinks of her siblings all walking home together with their hoes over their shoulders. “We’d all go blackberry picking together,” she said.

Sister Helena is pictured here on the day of her first Communion, with her first-grade teacher Sister Marita Greenwell and her parish priest, Father Joseph Saffer.

Her father Robert was a farmer, and the family raised tobacco, corn, and wheat, along with small amounts of livestock. “When I was old enough, I helped with corn tasseling, where we’d pull the tops off the corn. It’s what they use for seed corn,” Sister Helena said.

Her mother Audrey raised the children. “The things we grew up with were the importance of prayer, our faith, and trust in God,” Sister Helena said. “We had the rosary together every night. I was taught that you honor your word, don’t say you’re going to do something unless you do it.”

All the Fischer children attended St. Martin Parish School in Rome. “In the lower grades, when we didn’t know how to read, our parents would ask us our Catechism questions at night,” she said.

The parish priest was Father Joseph Saffer, the principal was Ursuline Sister Ethel Sims, and her first grade teacher was Sister Marita Greenwell, now retired at the Motherhouse. In the middle grades she had the late Sister Leander Burch.

“Mom and Dad always had a bag of vegetables or some meat to send over to the priests and sisters,” she said.

After St. Martin, Sister Ethel arranged for Sister Helena to get a scholarship as a boarding student at Mount Saint Joseph Academy. “I was able to work in the chapel with Sister Louis Bertrand (Thompson). She was so sweet to work with,” Sister Helena said. “I’d dust all the kneelers and clean the floors. It was such a peaceful place.”

During her Academy days she learned some lessons that would last a lifetime. “We had crusades where we saved stamps and made rosaries to pass on,” she said. “What we do in community now is an extension of what we learned then — save what you can, and help others.”