Helen Halligan, CSJ

We remember her in the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring 

June 4, 1931 – May 17, 2020

Sister Helen Halligan, CSJ (Sister Bernard Joseph) was born in Lynn, MA, to Patrick and Mary Teresa Halligan.  She was the firstborn of six and the only daughter. A natural athlete, Helen held her own with her five younger brothers.  She leaves her beloved brothers Thomas and Richard Halligan, and her cherished nieces, nephews, grandnieces, and grandnephews. 

Sister Helen was missioned as a teacher at St. Agatha, Milton, St. John, Quincy, St. Mary High School, Brookline and Fontbonne Academy, Milton, as well as other schools in the Archdiocese.  For thirty-six years, she ministered with joy as a Principal and then as a Parish Minister at St. Rose in New Mexico.

Given by Betsy Conway, CSJ


Her dear friend and sister in community, Sister Annie Kaufman, offers the following reflection.

I lived with Sister Helen for 36 years in Santa Rosa, NM.  It was difficult for the parish to lose Helen the first time when she retired in 2010 to Boston.  And they feel the loss even more now. What an impact she had on so many different ages.

Years ago, Helen wanted to be a missionary. Because of health issues, the Maryknoll Sisters would not admit her, so she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph. When the mission in NM opened in 1950, she volunteered, but it wasn’t yet to be.  She finally got there in 1974 when she offered to be the principal of St. Rose Elementary School.  When the school closed in 1978, Helen began her roles in religious education and pastoral ministry. After she retired, many asked who replaced her.  My answer was always the same, “Twenty others.”

Some may picture Helen as slow-moving, organized, a stickler for detail, patient, professional, a historian to the core. What energized her spirit was the living out of Luke 12:22 and following.  “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Therefore do not be anxious about your life…Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his or her span of life? Why are you anxious about the rest? Helen had a way of accomplishing much and of interacting with many in her calm way. She lived our charism of active, inclusive love, as evident in the following recollections.

Helen’s special gift was in dealing with high school students.  She enjoyed the bi-annual 24 months Confirmation process in particular.  She arranged interviews with each candidate, never anxious about the length of time and attention she gave to them. After encountering a group of High School Seniors one morning at a restaurant during their free period, she invited them to the convent once a week for a snack and Scripture study.  She had her Fab Four High School girls helping Helen with religion class projects all through their High School years. She took the same place at the Santa Rosa Lions basketball games, where the teens would pass by and greet her. St. Rose Parish still offers two academic scholarships to graduating Seniors in honor of Helen’s youth ministry. 

Helen accepted the position of administrator of the town’s Transient Aid outreach.  She headed the fundraising and held annual salad luncheons where women from all the local churches provided the salads.  She also went around town asking for donations, but it was more about taking time to visit than the actual money. In many a conversation, Helen was a healing presence to the person.  She stayed involved for 21 years with the transients themselves. One fellow came to the convent for a gas voucher and asked if Helen remembered him from 5 years before.  At first, she didn’t think so.  Then I heard her say, “Are you the one from Canada?”  Incredible memory.

During one Christmas, a family from Mexico got stranded in Santa Rosa.  They asked Helen’s help to get to El Paso. She decided to drive the parents and two children 8 hours away. She left off the grateful family and stayed overnight before returning.  When she arrived home, there was an envelope stuck in the door with a donation that was the same amount of money she had used to make the trip.  One more time, the Lord took care of her in providing for her and the Dear Neighbor. 

Another of Helen’s talents was as an organizer of work teams during the annual 3-day fiestas.  She would stand at the back of the church with her clipboard and sign up helpers as they left Mass. Not many could say no to her.  She supervised the weekly volunteers for cleaning the church. She took time to connect with the families when they came to borrow the keys. Once again, the personal contact was of utmost importance.

Helen was not shy about calling people to account. With her gentle encouragement, several couples had their marriages blessed.  Others joined the RCIA.  She challenged adults thirsting for an understanding of Scripture to attend her classes.  We gave women’s overnight retreats together in the convent for women who were seeking to deepen their prayer experiences.  Helen’s peaceful nature and calm demeanor drew others in.

God gifted Helen with the ability to prepare and deliver countless reflections without notes at weekday Communion services. Both the deacon and I took our turns under much duress, but Helen kept insisting and affirming our efforts.  Eventually, she enabled both the deacon and me to let go of our anxiety, but I never let go of using notes.

A sense of adventure was another of Helen’s qualities.  Sister Ivan and Helen and I took a camping trip together to California.  She taught us to read a road map, calculate the mileage between destinations, and let go of our anxiety about getting lost.  It was a wonderful learning experience. Even on the camping trip, Helen kept to her routine of slow-cooked oatmeal, which she prepared 365 mornings a year.

The challenge of multiple health issues slowed Helen in her later years, but she faced each with composure.  Her years here in Framingham gave witness to her friendly disposition with all the nurses and aids.  Her positive attitude and willing compliance through all her various physical trials and treatments were exceptional.  Ever the teacher, Helen was so proud of her monthly history of music presentations to the Sisters here at Bethany Health Care with the help of Shannon Vinton.  

And once Catherine Sabatini discovered Helen’s love of horse racing, they were Kentucky Derby pals and racing fans together. Where did she get this interest? It came at an early age when her grant aunt brought her to Suffolk Downs when Helen was three years old.  Later this same aunt took Helen out of elementary school at mid-day to go to the track.  Helen’s mother refused to write the absence note to the teacher the next day.

Just one more story.  This is from Helen in the 6th grade.  Helen decided to give her brother John a haircut while their mother was downtown paying the bills.  Helen put a bowl on John’s head and proceeded to chop away.  After the initial laughter, they panicked.  Scotch tape had just been invented, so Helen tried taping John’s hair back.  The next day John’s First Grade nun made him a crown to wear and sent for Helen to reprimand her.

For the last ten years, I have been ever so grateful for the loving and compassionate care of Helen first at St. Joseph Hall and then for many years at Bethany Health Care Center.  It was finally time for Helen to be accompanied by St. Joseph to her eternal reward for 70 years as a dedicated Sister in the Congregation of the Great Love of God.  And so we pray, “Receive her soul and present her to God the Most High.” Rest in peace, dear Sister and friend.

Written by Sister Ann Kaufman, CSJ

May 17, 2020