Sister Helen Stapleton, MM

Born: August 29, 1896
Entered: July 4, 1938
Died: April 12, 1987

On Palm Sunday, April 12, 1987, at 10:50 p.m., Sister Helen Stapleton made her own entry into the heavenly Jerusalem at Phelps Hospital accompanied by the prayer of Sister Bernadette Duggan of our center health unit. We gather together at this mid-point of Holy Week to mourn, to remember Helen and to rejoice in her new life of Resurrection.

Helen Alice Stapleton was born on August 29, 1896, in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, the fifth of the seven children of Matthew Nolan and Alexia Brady Stapleton. She attended St. Mary’s grade school and the public high school in Rhinelander. Helen worked in Milwaukee as a librarian before studying at Marquette University for her Bachelor’ s Degree which she received in 1937. Her sister, Beatrice, had entered the Maryknoll Sisters in 1932, and Helen joined her in 1938 – Helen was 42 years old at the time. At profession on January 6, 1941, she was given the name Sister Alice Elizabeth; her final profession was in 1944.

Helen’s assignments in Maryknoll were all in the United States — at the Motherhouse, the Venard and at Bethany. Her tasks were generally associated with library work and she did much to raise the quality and quantity of library acquisitions wherever she was. But it was her eagerness for life and the relational qualities she brought to it which characterized Helen as a missioner. She embraced the world in loving arms. She became interested in the Arab World through the magazine of the Arabian Oil Company and she entered into a long and faithful correspondence with its editor. She taught catechism; was involved in the Westchester Christian Women’s Group; she visited families in homes near enough to Bethany to walk; she went to Grasslands to work with retarded children once a week; she attended an ecumenical Bible Study Class to, as she said, “get to know the other side of the questions,” and every semester she attended at least one course at the Sisters’ Center or at the Seminary. Her rationale was clear: “I find the classes very excellent in keeping me alert to religious and literary trends, and I also find good fellowship in the groups taking the classes with me.” This last sentence was written when Helen was 77 years old.

Helen’s lifelong interest in creative writing seems to have been a sustaining and energizing talent which she shared in catechetics classes, in stories she wrote and in word-sketches of friends in letters. She even went so far as to take a test for admission to a creative writing class when she was working at Bethany and she scored very high. She did not take the class — she was 75 at the time and felt the investment would not be worth the return!

Helen’s sister is with us today and we extend to her our sympathy as the last surviving member of her family. I would like to end with something she has seen and encouraged Helen to send to us. She wrote this for a sister dying at Bethany, but said in her note: “I think I was thinking of my death too.”

A Paradiso for a Sister

When her eyes can no longer see the things of earth, may she see the Beatific vision and become mmore Christ-like.
When her mouth can no longer taste of the fruit of earth, may she taste of the sweetness of Christ and become more Christ-like.
When her ears no longer hear the sounds of earth, may she know the Truth and become more Christ-like.
When her hands no longer hold to things of earth, may she place them into His Hands and become more Christ-like.
When her feet are cold and heavy and have run the race, may they receive the prize and become more Christ-like.
When her knees are trembling and afraid, may the cry be “Heard, dismiss Thy servant” and become more Christ-like.
When her heart is weary may she hear, “Enter into this Heart that was made for you,” and become more Christ-like.

We welcome Fr. Robert Sheridan of the Maryknoll Society, a lifelong friend of the Stapletons, who will preside this morning over our Eucharist of remembering and peace and joy.