Sister Helen (Alma Francis) McCarthy
“I thank my God every time I remember you.” (Philippians 1:3)
“When I think of Sister Helen, this reading comes to mind. I find it impossible to remember that wonderful smile that always greeted everyone she met without thanking God for the gift that she has been to each of us,” said Sister Mary Ann Phelan in her commentary for Sister Helen McCarthy, who died June 23.
One of seven children of Jeremiah and Mary (Kearney) McCarthy, Helen McCarthy was born Feb. 3, 1915, in Chicago. She attended St. Agnes Grade School and Providence High School, both in Chicago. Entering the Congregation Aug. 20, 1932, she received the religious name Sister Alma Francis. She professed first and perpetual vows Jan. 23, 1935, and Aug. 15, 1940, respectively. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
Sister Helen began teaching grade school in 1935 at St. Angela, Chicago. Her other Illinois classrooms included St. Joseph and Immaculate Heart, Galesburg; St. Mel, St. Leo, Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Mercy, Chicago; St. Athanasius, Evanston; and St. Francis Xavier (where she also served as assistant principal), Wilmette. In Indiana, she taught at Sacred Heart, Terre Haute; St. Augustine, Fort Wayne; St. Simon, Washington; and Sacred Heart, Whiting. She also spent four years at St. Ann, Washington, D.C. Sister Helen retired in 1985. For the next 13 years, she served as an aide or tutor in several grade schools.
“Sister Helen loved the children she taught and enjoyed telling stories about them,” continued Sister Mary Ann. “One story I would like to share is that Father Andrew Greeley in one of his books mentioned his beloved second-grade teacher, Sister Alma Francis. When one of our sisters mentioned this to Sister Helen, she said that one day, she asked how many of the boys wanted to be priests when they grew up and, of course, all the boys raised their hands. Sister Helen remarked to them that not all of them would become priests, but Andrew said, ‘I will.’”
After retiring, Sister Helen continued to keep busy, tutoring children. “On the days she did not tutor, she would attend a noon Mass at a neighboring parish. There she met several of the other retired people who attended that Mass, and they would often take her to lunch. When she arrived home at the convent about four in the afternoon, she would tell the sister who was cooking, ‘Count me out for dinner. I’m full.’ This time with these people was a ministry to another group of people, who I am sure loved her as much as her students had,” said Sister Mary Ann.
“As a child, Sister Helen liked to play baseball, and we know that this enjoyment of baseball in her later years continued as she watched her beloved [Chicago] Cubs. Sister Helen also liked to play cards and checkers and just chat with anyone who stopped in. The cheerful words of greeting made all feel that they had known her all their life,” said Sister Mary Ann.
“One sister said, ‘Sister Helen made us all feel like a bishop as she would kiss our hand. A special treat that she would share with friends were milk-chocolate caramel candies,” continued Sister Mary Ann.
“We have been blessed with the presence of one whose life was a reflection of God’s love and joy. I am sure that her family members in heaven welcomed her with open arms. Goodbye, Sister Helen. We will miss your smile but not forget it,” said Sister Mary Ann.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Helen was celebrated June 28, with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding. She is survived by one brother, John, of Tinley Park, Ill.
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