Sister Helen Dolores Losleben
Sister Helen Dolores was born Helen Marie Losleben on February 15, 1921, in Anaheim, California, to George Losleben and Ida Kaiser Losleben. She was welcomed by her four older siblings, Art, Gertrude, Fred, and Andy, and in a few years, she became the middle child as her four younger brothers, Joe, Bill, Larry, and Johnny, came into the household. She was baptized at St. Boniface in Anaheim and attended elementary schools there, said Sister Maureen Abbott in her commentary for Sister Helen Dolores Losleben, who died Tuesday, September 12, 2017, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 96 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 78 years.
Their father died when Helen was 9, knitting the close family even tighter. During her eighth grade year at St. Boniface, Helen watched down the street as the Sisters of Providence opened Marywood School for Girls, where she became part of the second freshmen class, graduating in 1939.
Since the Marywood campus included the novitiate for the small western province of the Sisters of Providence, it was here that she entered the community on July 16, 1939, together with two others we later came to know as Sisters Dorothy Marie Ahern and Bernadette Mary Carroll. A little aside here – these three achieved a definite status among those who entered from California. To mark the occasion of their 60th anniversary of entrance, Sister Marge Funke got an oversized deck of cards and presented them with the three queens. It was in the western novitiate that she began her college studies, going on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1954, and a Master’s of Education from DePaul University in Chicago.
Sister Helen Dolores Losleben
Teacher for 54 years in schools in Illinois, California and Texas
In Illinois: St. Mary, Aurora (1946-47); Immaculate Conception, Chicago (1948-50); St. Mary Carmelite, Joliet (Principal, 1959-67).
In California: St. Elisabeth, Van Nuys (1942-46; 1950-53); St. Theresa, Los Angeles (Principal, 1953-59); St. Anthony, Gardena (Principal, 1967-69); Good Sheperd, Pacifica (1969-73); St. Ambrose, Hollywood (Principal, 1973-79); St. Teresa of Avila, Los Angeles (1984-87); St. Joseph School, Hawthorne (1987-97).
In Texas: St. John, Robstown (1979-84).
After professing first vows on January 23, 1942, Helen’s first assignment was in California at St. Elisabeth in Van Nuys. After the war, she took the train to the Midwest for her next assignment at St. Mary, Aurora, Illinois. She only got her first glimpse of the motherhouse when she came for second novitiate in 1947, joining band members from the eastern novitiate in Maryland and those here at St. Mary’s.
Almost everyone who describes Helen mentions that she was very organized and efficient. These qualities certainly came in handy when at age 32, she was assigned as fifth and sixth grade teacher, and superior and principal at St. Teresa in Los Angeles. Obviously, she did a good job because she had these same responsibilities during her years at St. Mary, Joliet, where over several years she spent the summer months in Chicago, studying for her master’s at DePaul. Later, she enjoyed teaching assignments in Pacifica, California, and Robstown, Texas.
Altogether, Helen ministered 54 years in Catholic education, the final eight as school secretary at St. Joseph, Hawthorne. When Sister Cathy White arrived there as principal in 1989, she inherited an assistant who was very quiet, but someone who, in Sister Cathy’s words, “definitely let everyone know what should be done and how to do it.” Several years later when the pastor came over to the convent to tell the sisters that, due to the few sisters serving the parish, their very large convent would be closed, he was probably relieved to note that the activist Sister Cathy wasn’t there. Much to his surprise, it was the diminutive Sister Helen Dolores who spoke up: “No, Father, you can’t do that. You have to give us a year’s notice.” “Well, Sister,” he replied, “I don’t know anything about that.” “Well, Father, you’d better find out.” Sure enough, Sister Cathy had served on the committee that had drawn up the archdiocese’s policy and just from the table conversation, Helen was well-informed. The sisters had a year of grace.
Helen made it a point to keep up with the family members, and since the Loslebens in southern California liked to get together, she was able to join them for many celebrations. When Larry came from New Mexico to visit their mother, he always stopped by to make sure his children would get to know Aunt Helen. Community life in California afforded many opportunities for outings to places of interest and Helen would be among the first to sign up for a drive to the Valyermo festival or a visit to the sisters in Crestline in the mountains. St. Ambrose, Hollywood, offered particular advantages, as the 1967 group attended the taping of the television show, “All in the Family,” where they met Carroll O’Conner, who was playing the role of the infamous Archie Bunker. After Sister Cathy White shared her dreams of visiting every single state in the union, it was amazing how many routes the two of them found to get to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for summer meetings. Is Montana really on the way to Indiana? Actually, even grocery shopping could be a fun time with Helen Dolores. She was handy around the house and liked to cook up a batch of tasty quesadillas for supper. An excellent seamstress, she made her own dresses.
After retiring from schools, Helen volunteered at the South Central Los Angeles Ministry project. Young non-English speaking mothers came there not only to learn English, but also life skills like budgeting, writing checks, and activities to prepare their children for school. Helen provided child care services, often literally baby-sitting as mom got a break while Helen sat with the baby in her lap.
When she retired here to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 2002, she began service in the Activity Room, where she became much appreciated for her determination in following through many behind-the-scenes tasks, and for her gracious and friendly manner. She was never one to put herself forward, but she enjoyed being with people and became a founding member of the “Breakfast Club,” and “Coffee-Klatch” groups in the dining room. Passers-by would stop in to see what the commotion was about because, as Sister Mary Catherine Keene observed, “When Helen laughed, she laughed from the toes up.” Over the years, she established a daily routine of activities that the rest of us could set our watches by. After her ride on the stationary bike, she would head to the basement to be part of the group exercises and go on to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel for her daily visit.
One of the most impressive things about Helen was her approach to the diminishments of aging. She was humble in asking for help and gracious in accepting it with a smile. When her eyesight failed, she learned how to use the magnifying devise and subscribed to an audiobook service. When her knees gave out, she used her walker to traverse the wide Providence halls, stopping to sit and say a decade of the rosary when she tired. She faithfully attended the informational LGU’s and was able to offer a thoughtful and articulate opinion during the discussion. Even during her last months in Mother Theodore Hall, she wanted to pray together with others. Truly, we will ever be grateful to her for showing us what St. John describes in today’s reading how to be God’s children now.
Services for Sister Helen Dolores took place on Monday, September 18, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A Wake took place at 9 a.m., followed by Mass of Christian Burial.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Helen Dolores in the comment section below.
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