Sister Helena Fischer: Embracing change as an Ursuline calling

Rather than teach specific grades, they learned that they each enjoyed teaching specific subjects, so they taught the same subjects to different grade levels. “I taught English and language arts all the way up,” Sister Helena said. “The people there were so good.”

After two stints in rural areas following Louisville, Sister Helena again found herself in a big city in 1974, when she was named principal of Seven Holy Founders School in the St. Louis suburb of Affton, Mo.

One of Sister Helena’s favorite spots on the Brescia campus is this swing in the courtyard outside the Administration Building.

“Seeing all the Catholic high schools there, when I got to Brescia, I said people paid as much to go to high school in St. Louis as they did to go to college here,” Sister Helena said.

Switching from the classroom to the principal’s office had its ups and down, but there are many things to take pride in as principal, Sister Helena said. “It was a happy time when something was accomplished to help the children and teachers,” she said. “I had the support of the parents in working out plans for the children. I had to direct accreditation in St. Louis and in New Mexico.”

A second home

In 1980, her former principal at St. Martin, Sister Ethel Sims, was close to retiring as principal of St. Charles Borromeo School in Albuquerque, N.M. Sister Helena was asked to go to St. Charles for a year as a teacher, then to take over as principal in 1981.

The Ursuline Sisters first went to New Mexico to teach in 1918, nine years after two young men from Daviess County, Ky., — Joseph and Lorenzo Stallings — and their friend from Georgia moved there and settled in an area they called “Kentucky Mesa.” Two years later some more men from Daviess County arrived, including Felix Warren.

“My relatives were among those who lived on Kentucky Mesa, the Stallings and Warrens,” Sister Helena said. “I’d never been there before I went to minister.

“I looked at it as an opportunity to learn about my relatives,” she said. “I got to see a place where there was a big rock, where the men crawled under to sleep or hide when they first got there. My mother was thrilled she had a chance to come out. My family got to come to St. Louis and New Mexico because of my ministries.”

Sister Helena decided to teach fourth grade during her first year. “Sister Ethel and Sister Rose Ann Boone made sure I knew all the rich history of New Mexico,” Sister Helena said. “I had to practice the names of my students with the sisters before school started,” she said. “We visited Indian pueblos and went to the Spanish fiestas. It was not uncommon for a hot air balloon to land on our playground.”

The nine Fischer children and their mother are pictured here in 2003. In the first row, from left, is Janie Howard, Rose Hodgkins, the late Audrey Fischer, Martha Long, and Jean Blandford; in the second row, from left, is Barbara Ann Stallings, Pauline Wink, the late Bernard Joseph Fischer, Sister Helena, and Sylvester Fischer.

Sister Rosemary Keough was coordinator of religious education at the school during some of those years. “I had just come back from South America and some traumatic experiences. Sister Helena was a calm, serene presence; open and supportive of my continuing need for rehabilitation and desire to return to Chile,” Sister Rosemary said. “Her organizational skills and neatness were models for my never-ending trials to get organized.

“I was amazed at the after-school programs Sister Helena had going for students who needed to wait for rides,” Sister Rosemary said.“Everything seemed to run like clockwork, but with a calm atmosphere that made St. Charles one of the top schools.”

The two had plenty of fun together as well. “We got to see the musical, ‘Texas,’ in Palo Alto Canyon. A special feature was a man-made thunderstorm with lightning splitting a tree in half,” Sister Rosemary said. “As we left the canyon, it seemed as if God said, ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!’ and proceeded to show the most fantastic lightning/thunderstorm I ever saw.”

On that same trip when Sister Helena was driving, she was pulled over by a police officer, Sister Rosemary said. “The officer asked for Sister’s license, and was gone for a long time at the back of the car. When he reappeared, he handed Sister a warning that only had a Scripture verse on it,” Sister Rosemary said. “We could hardly wait to find a Bible to see that verse. As I recall, it simply said, “We should obey the law!”