Sister Helen Therese Conway
The Gospel according to Matthew: 5:14-15, The Passion Translation (TPT):
“Your lives light up the world. Let others see your light from a distance, for how can you hide a city that stands on a hilltop? And who would light a lamp and then hide it in an obscure place? Instead, it’s placed where everyone in the house can benefit from its light. So don’t hide your light! Let it shine brightly before others, so that the commendable things you do will shine as light upon them, and then they will give their praise to your Father in heaven.”
From all accounts, Sister Helen Therese was one such disciple of Jesus whose life lit up the world of those who knew and loved her, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Helen Therese Conway, who passed away on Thursday, April 16, 2020, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 94 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 72 years.
Sister Ann continued: Eileen Conway was born to Clarence and Daisy McClellan Conway on Jan. 25, 1926, in Chicago. From the outset, I imagine Eileen’s birth lit up the Conway family household. Her eight siblings all preceded her in death – her sisters Ethel, Daisy, Margaret, Dorothy Jane and Thoretta; her brothers Robert, Clarence and Patrick. She dearly loved her large family and communicated with them often. Her many nieces and nephews remained close to their Auntie Eileen and enjoyed visits with her in her various ministry locations and here at the Woods.
Her niece Mary Lou recalls, “My mother and she were very close and spoke by phone once a week until my mother’s death in 2017. Most summers of my childhood we traveled to Terre Haute to visit her. We would stay in the old guest house. Her friends would ask to drive my dad’s car around campus. We also visited her in Galesburg, Wilmette, and Greenfield. She loved teaching and she loved her ‘Sisters.’ Showing us around Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, she would beam with pride at all the accomplishments of the college and of the Sisters. Our family is grateful for the love and care she received. She and my mom are catching up in heaven.”
Her nephew Paul comments, “My aunt was a beautiful woman who will always be remembered for her love of family and her dedication of service in education. Her lifelong commitment to the community of the Sisters of Providence was truly beautiful. I too have fond memories of my last visit with her at SMW, reminiscing about the entire family. Up until a few years ago, she would keep track of all the comings and goings of the family.”
This dearly loved Aunt Eileen attended Our Lady of Angels in Chicago and went on to Providence High School where she met up with the Sisters of Providence. She graduated in 1944 and entered the Congregation on Feb. 2, 1948. She made first and perpetual profession of vows on Aug. 15, 1950, and 1955, respectively.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in education at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and her master’s in education at Indiana State University. She was granted permanent state certification in both elementary teaching and supervision.
With these credentials, Sister Helen Therese spent a total of 37 years in education, with brief teaching stints in California and Illinois, and spending 27 of those in Indiana, as a teacher and as principal, sometimes at the same time. She was at Greenfield, Indiana, for 18 years. A dear friend from those years who remained close was Janet Tosick. Her three children all attended St. Michael’s. Janet relates, “We became fast friends when our oldest went to first grade, and our golden retriever named Judge followed the bus to school. She called me and said, ‘Honey, your dog is at school!’ That was the first of many calls!”
Helen had more than a few friends at St. Michael’s! Janet mentioned a time she organized a trip to the Woods about three years ago. Several visited Helen and had lunch together with her. She says of that day, “There was a lot of laughter and what a good time we all had with sister. After the lunch, she came over to me and gave me a big hug and said, ‘Thank you, Janet; that meant so much to me to see so many of my old friends!!”
Providence Associate Kathleen Fleming shared, “I always admired her learning to use a computer at her age. She’d make lists of questions to ask me about computers when I got to the Woods. She would say, ‘You are used to talking to kindergartners, so I think you would keep it simple.’ I told her she had it wrong. The kindergartners were helping me. I gave her a copy of Word for Dummies and she said, ‘Is this an insult?’ Apparently, she had not been introduced to the Dummy book series.”
Kathleen also related Helen’s story of a young boy who was always in trouble, so much so that she told him he would have to go with her to the convent at noontime and eat his lunch on the steps. Undaunted, he asked if he could bring his guitar along because he had to practice to play at Mass. He added, “I could serenade the sisters while you eat.” Helen said that his answers always made her laugh.
Another student, who is now Deacon Steve, noted “Sister Helen Therese was my principal when I went to St. Michael’s in Greenfield in the 70s. She was AMAZING! I developed a respectful fear of God … and her! She impacted so many lives, so positively. I am who I am today because of her. I am in service to the Church because of the faith foundation that she helped develop in me.”
After Helen Therese’s illustrious career of 37 years as teacher and principal, she came to the Motherhouse in 1987 and spent another 30 years as an administrative assistant on the Provincial staff and then in residential services. In 2017, she truly retired and devoted more time to a ministry of prayer.
It’s not surprising that Helen Therese did not have a lot of hobbies, given her years of active ministry. We do know that she loved puzzles and often did them in the early hours of the morning in the Community Room with her good friend Sister Lawrence Ann, and then several times throughout the day. Before relaxing with the puzzle, however, she had a daily ritual of visiting the Church where she would pray before the tabernacle and Mary’s altar, proceed to pray at the Our Lady of Providence Shrine and at the alter of St. Joseph, and then stopping to pray before the Mother Theodore statue in the Church hallway on her way to the Community Room. When I saw her during my walk, I was always impressed by her devotion and prayer.
She also loved to play Free Cell on the computer in her office when there was a lull between gathering information and printing the Day-by-Day bulletin.
For several years, she was the “go-to person” when the Mission Advancement office needed silverware wrapped in napkins for the donor dinner. She never liked to be idle, yet, one sister remarked that “she was always fearful that she would put somebody out or annoy them by her words or actions.” I doubt that happened very often!
Annette Powell and her husband, who have attended Mass at Saint Mary’s for the last seven years, mentioned that “when seeing Helen Therese in the back pew, I felt like I was with an angel on earth. Something about her always made my soul feel good, safe, and loved. I will always remember her for these reasons.”
The celebration of Eucharist was very important to Helen Therese and in the last year or so, she struggled to get to daily Mass on her walker, and she was always there. Now, she struggles no more, but walks freely to the banquet God has prepared for her in heaven.
As we heard in the Gospel reading, Sister Helen Therese was not one “to hide her light” and did indeed “light up” the lives of her family, her sisters and her many former students and friends. We join them “in giving praise to our Father in heaven” for her long life of service and dedication. May she rest in peace without fears and worries, and enjoy God’s presence and that of Our Lady of Providence, St. Joseph and Saint Mother Theodore Guerin for all eternity.
Funeral services for Sister Helen Therese took place on Friday, April 24, 2020, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Virtual Wake took place at 10:e30 a.m., on Friday, April 24, followed by Funeral Liturgy Outside Mass at 11 a.m. The funeral was closed to the public.
Click here to see photos of Sister Helen Therese through the years.
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Sister Helen Therese Conway
In Indiana: Teacher, St. Andrew, Indianapolis (1950-53); Teacher, Holy Trinity, New Albany (1953-54); Teacher, Sacred Heart, Terre Haute (1954-55); Teacher, St. Catherine, Indianapolis (1965-67); Teacher, Our Lady of Greenwood, Greenwood (1967-69); Teacher/Principal, St. Michael, Greenfield (1969-87); Provincial Staff Administrative Assistant, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1987-91); Administrative Assistant, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Residential Services (1992-96); Administrative Assistant, Congregation Campus Services, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1996-2003); Administrative Assistant, Residential Life and Services, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2003-2015); Residential Services, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2015-17); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2017-2020).
In California: Teacher, St. Elisabeth, Van Nuys (1955-59).
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Joseph, Galesburg (1959-60); Teacher, St. Francis Xavier, Wilmette (1960-64); Teacher, Our Lady of Mercy, Chicago (1964-65).
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