A Reflection on Sister Helen Jean Vinton
As I sit in my home office miles from the campus of the former Ladywood-St. Agnes in Indianapolis, and years away from the days I spent there, it is incredible how clear the memories are of that time.
Other than my own parents and grandparents, I feel that the education I had from the Sisters of Providence was foundational to my faith as well a way to lead a life of purpose. It is an honor to recall one of the special women that provided that formation, Sister Helen Jean Vinton.
Unlike young women today in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s only a few woman seemed eager to embrace the sciences. For many of us that changed when we stepped into biology class with Sister Helen. She taught all of us so much more than the scientific method, but rather a way of thinking and living in a much bigger world than most of us had experienced before.
In her own quiet, meticulous way Sister Helen moved from one lab station to the next directing restless young women through experiments. Her teaching and her actions were clear. The world was filled with all manner of science and our role in the world could be so larger if faith was interwoven with the science.
To Sister Helen caring for each other, the earth and people we would never know was as normal as breathing. In her world simple was good and from that simplicity more could be shared with others. It is a message I have tried to impart to my own daughters.
I cannot recall if Sister Helen ever used the words “social justice” she just lived it as an example to her students. So perhaps that is the greatest gift I received from the time spent with Sister Helen. To create a life of purpose and a way of thinking that is bigger than you in a world that needs our care.
I was so fortunate to be one of students to explore Quetico Provincial Park with Sister Helen and some of my classmates. Not a “wilderness girl” and way below par when it came to hiking and canoeing. I look back and realize it was more than a week in the woods. It was an early challenge on how to live when you do not have the skill set. It was a learning experience to develop that part of yourself that you did not know existed. That is what Sister Helen gave me and probably hundreds of other young women. It has been so helpful in life when I have faced physical and personal challenges to think about that time, to slow down and remember that difficult situations can be handled from the strengths we develop along the way.
— Julia Boarini Conaghan, Ladywood-St. Agnes ’73, resides with her husband, Tom, in Indianapolis. They have two daughters and as a family have been active in their parish with outreach to the homeless in their community.