Helen and I shared a love of music and of musical comedies. Once when I was a young staff worker and having a very hard time, Helen told me to be in the yard at 1 p.m. She showed up with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken [something we never have at MH] and videos of four musical comedies.
She took me to a quiet corner of Madonna House where we watched all four movies, sang along with the songs, and ate every bit of that chicken. Helen sure knew how to pick your spirits up.
After supper, some of the women do dishes or else some other kind of work during that time, usually cleaning. We call those other jobs, "dish jobs." For years, Helen had a most unusual evening dish job. She was assigned to play backgammon with Archbishop Raya.
Fr. Ron Cafeo
The women staff live in dormitories, and the largest one is St. Goupil’s. Some of its quirks were or are: squeaky floor boards, a back door that was hard to open and close quietly, and a toilet that got easily plugged.
Helen was the housemother there for years, and she always told new people moving in:
1) If you get up during the night or leave the dorm early, [when everyone else is asleep], walk as though you were eloping.
2) Never turn your back on a flushing toilet.
Helen was always beside herself with nervousness when it was her week to lead the community at prayers. By the time Sunday Vespers, her last time, arrived, her relief was palpable.
One Sunday evening, heaving a huge sigh of relief, she invited us all to pray the Lord’s Prayer: "Now let us all pray in the words Christ taught us: Hail Mary, full of grace…."
Mary Lynn Murray
Helen was one of the few people I know who I could spend hours and days with and never tire of her company.
You know that saying, "House guests are like fish. Both are great, but after three days, they start to smell." Well, Helen would sometimes spend a week or so of her holidays with us, and it was a week of fun and merriment. When she was ready to leave, we’d say, "Oh, can’t you stay for another day or so?"
Food always was a weak spot for Helen. When she was an applicant (equivalent to a novice), I was her director of training. She was the quietest one of the group and probably the easiest.
So I was very surprised, years later, when Helen told me that every week on their half-day off, she and another applicant would collect beer and pop bottles they found along the road and bring them to a nearby grocery store for deposit money. Then they’d use that money to buy themselves little food treats!
[As part of our poverty, we are not allowed to spend money without permission.]
Helen was unique among the women staff in that she held the same job—secretary for the director general of women—her whole time in Madonna House, and that she never went through the training in various kinds of work that almost all of us did.
Well, she was assigned to a mission house once—St. Joseph’s House, down the road from Madonna House.
She arrived there in the evening, and the very next morning she was told that she was going to be the cook. Helen burst into tears. Except for her very popular apple strudel, she did not know how to cook!
Almost all the women staff know how to cook, and Helen loved food and feeding people. I’m sure it never occurred to anyone that she did not know how to cook.
Anyhow, a cook was what St. Joseph’s House needed at the time, and so that afternoon, Helen was back at Madonna House.
Helen loved really old movies—especially musical comedies and sentimental tear-jerkers.
When I was getting ready for my last holidays, she went on and on about how wonderful a certain movie was and how I just had to see it on my holidays.
So, after checking out a few video stores, I finally found it and borrowed it. I didn’t like it at all.
I once asked Helen after I’d seen her perform some service for someone, "Do you enjoy doing … whatever it was that she was doing at the time?" She answered, "I never think about whether or not I like doing something."
a staff worker
"Generous to a fault." That described Helen—literally. When she was housemother at St. Goupil’s, though the rest of us were doing the routine cleaning, Helen did many of the other little jobs herself—extra cleaning, fixing things, stocking supplies, getting together food for a gathering, etc., etc.
This went on for years, and finally the director of the house told her that she needed to stop doing this, that it wasn’t good for us, that we needed to take more responsibility for our dorm. So those jobs got distributed among us. That’s when I learned just how much Helen had been doing.
a staff worker
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