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Ecological pioneer teacher leaves lasting impression

Sister Helen Jean Vinton oversees a biology lab at Ladywood-St. Agnes School.

Before Sister Helen Vinton was advocating for people and Earth in Loiusiana, she was influencing lives as a science teacher at Ladywood (later Ladywood-St. Agnes) High School in Indianapolis. Her former students remember her as ahead of her time in the 1960s and 70s in bringing ecology and care for Earth to their attention. Follow the link on each name for that person’s full reflection.

“The most memorable lesson I learned from Sister Helen was a curiosity and appreciation for the minute miracles that occur in nature. … one summer she went somewhere to study. She came back with shaved eyebrows because they were studying a microscopic mite that lives in our eyebrows. I was astounded that she would shave her eyebrows all in the name of science. This is an example of her commitment to learning and discovering the complex nuances of creatures that live among us without our awareness.”
— Anne Healey, ’73

“Sister Helen is the original Earth Mother.”
— Mary Ellen Wieland, ’74

vinton-habit-web“Thinking of Sister Helen brings a smile. She absolutely had a profound influence on me and my eventual career choice. When I took biology from sister she was still in the full habit. I’ve recounted many times the vivid image I have of her rolling up her sleeves, hiking up her skirt and tucking it in to her waist (she looked like she had big pantaloons), so she could lead us up and down the creek bed to explore and take samples. It was quite an experience to hike around with her. I’d never seen a nun do such a thing (and I had been around many by that time).
— Rosemary Glass Spalding, ’68,
 environmental lawyer

“She taught all of us … a way of thinking and living in a much bigger world than most of us had experienced before. Caring for each other, the earth and people we would never know was as normal as breathing to Sister Helen.”
— Julia Boarini Conaghan, ’73

“Sister Helen Jean was a forerunner in the environmental movement and quietly went about doing her work one student at a time. The seeds she planted have grown in many directions in my life and I give thanks for that.”
— Maura Healey Davenport, ’72

“I have to say her guiding us to take care of the environment has stuck with me throughout my life.”
— Ellen Tinder Dumm, LSA ’74

“Sister Helen’s influence on my life has been amazing, since it seems to unfold continuously. From exploring and appreciating the natural wonders all around (our own Backyard America to the Himalayan foothills and tropics of Burma!) to environmental awareness such as opting for green energy for our home, recycling and support of The Nature Conservancy here in Indiana. I was so fortunate to have been one of her students and I strive to share her vision with everyone!”
— Dorie Radtke Greene ’74

(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Ann Casper

Sister Ann Casper, SP, retired as the executive director for Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Providence in 2018 and currently serves as minister of Providence Community Cemetery at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Sister Ann has ministered in various scholastic and administrative positions in Indiana and North Carolina. She also was a member of the Sisters of Providence leadership team, serving as General Secretary.

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