Sister Helen Jean Bacso, MM

Born: September 24, 1921
Entered: September 6, 1944
Died: February 1, 1999

We are gathered this morning to remember and to celebrate the life of Sister Helen Jean Bacso who died February 1, 1999 at Phelps Memorial Hospital, Sleepy Hollow, New York, of complications following an illness. During her stay in the hospital she enjoyed many visits with Sisters and family members. Today’s Gospel reading: “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me.” offers us a meaningful reflection on Sister Helen Jean’s fifty-four years as a Maryknoll Sister.

Helen Jean Bacso was born in Trenton, New Jersey September 24, 1921, to John Paul and Helen Ryan Bacso. She grew up in a large family of ten children, with six brothers and three sisters. She received her early education at the parish elementary school and Cathedral Girls High School in Trenton and attended Trenton State Teachers College where she received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education.

When Helen Jean was in seventh grade, a priest of the Missionaries of Africa Congregation visited and showed movies to the students. “This was my first incentive to be a missioner,” Sister said, “and later in high school I discovered the Maryknoll magazine and soon I decided to be a Maryknoll Sister.” It wasn’t, however, until after Helen Jean taught in Trenton public schools for a year and a half that she entered Maryknoll on September 6, 1944 from Immaculate Conception Parish where she had been vice-president of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sodality.

After making her First Profession of Vows on March 7, 1947, Sister Helen Jean began thirty-six years of service as an elementary school teacher, first at Transfiguration School in New York Chinatown for one year and then at St. Anthony in Kalihi, Honolulu and Maryknoll in Punahou also in Honolulu. In 1983, she responded to a need for Congregational Service and worked for three years in the Data Processing Department at the Center. She then returned to her beloved Hawaii where she volunteered in programs for the elderly in adult education, served as Eucharistic Minister in the parish, and visited the sick and elderly in their homes. Failing health necessitated an assignment to the Center in 1993.

Helen Jean loved teaching; and her students loved her, many of whom kept in contact with her throughout the years. One experience Sister often shared regarding her teaching days was of the time she first started teaching Grades 1 through 5. She had instructed a young boy to bring (an object) from the other side of the room to her. She busied herself with something else then turned around to find the young boy next to her empty handed. “I asked you to bring the (object) from the other side of the room,” she said. “No, you didn’t!” was his retort. She found out it was the other boy’s brother and then later discovered a third brother – triplets!! Their names? Tom, Dick and Harry!!! As she recalled her many years of teaching she saw these years as the most satisfying period of her mission life and added: “It was always a joy to see a look of pleasure on the face of students as they mastered new concepts.” Along with her many teaching responsibilities, she was moderator of the Holy Childhood Association and instilled an awareness of mission among the children.

At the Catholic Services Office to the Elderly, Helen Jean assisted in updating client information recorded by the Central Intake Unit. In addition, she entered data into the computer for the Aging Services Information System set up by the Hawaii Community Services Council, which worked closely with other human service providers. Sister was featured in an article entitled Volunteers are Special People in the Catholic Services to the Elderly newsletter and given the following tribute: “Sr. Helen Jean’s main mission is to work within the Catholic Charities Diocese of Honolulu. Through her dedicated work with Catholic Services to the Elderly, she is fulfilling that goal. We are fortunate that she is able to assist us and regard her as a regular team member in our Catholic Services to the Elderly Family.”

Sister Helen Jean was a happy, cooperative worker in each of her ministries, and in her free moments kept busy with one or another of her favorite hobbies. One hobby she developed during her years in Hawaii and which carried over to her retirement years at the Center was making rosaries, using seeds from plants grown in Hawaii such as Job’s Tears and the Bird of Paradise, and various other materials such as olive wood and even crystal! Each rosary was special for her and carefully hand-crafted earning her the title of “An Enabler of Prayer” by many. During the past several years she would visit the Botanical Gardens in search of various types of seeds, fallen from trees, that she could use for her favorite hobby. In Hawaii, these rosaries were often given as gifts or sold at the Cathedral’s Gift Shop in Ala Moana. Here at Maryknoll, they sold as popular Bazaar items.

A good mystery story was also Helen Jean’s relaxation, along with being an avid correspondent. Her address book is endless! She loved keeping in contact with her family, sisters and friends, and never missed sending a greeting for a birthday or special occasion, and even delighted many with weekly letters. She also shared this joy with others, and on Saturday afternoons could always be found on Residential Care IV writing letters for the Sisters.

We offer our deepest sympathy to Sister Helen Jean’s family and friends. We also welcome our Maryknoll brother and Hawaiian missioner, Father Francis Diffley, who will preside at this Liturgy of Christian Burial as together we praise and thank God for the gift of Sister Helen Jean’s life.