sister mary helen kane

October 7, 1928 - November 20, 2015

“An infectious smile ... a wonderful sense of humor,”
a passion for scripture

Mary Helen was born in Rantoul, Illinois, October 7, 1928, to James and Mabel (Fiedler) Kane. She was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph at Holy Cross School in Champaign. In third grade she developed Blount Disease, a disease of the tibia, which gradually prevented her from walking. For grades 4, 5, 6 and the first semester of 7th grade she was tutored at home. After graduating from a local public high school, she attended Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

On February 11, 1948, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph and was received as Sister Anne Fanchea on August 15, 1948. Her bachelor’s degree in English was from Fontbonne College (1957) followed by two master’s from Loyola University, Chicago, first in education counseling and guidance (1962), and secondly in religious education (1971).

Throughout her 67 years as a sister, S. Mary Helen was involved in a number of different ministries. She taught intermediate or junior high classes at Our Lady of Lourdes, University City (1950), St. Mary, Bridgeton (1951), St. Matthew, St. Louis (1952), Nativity of Our Lord, Chicago, Illinois (1956-59 and 1960-61), St. Bede the Venerable, Chicago (1959) and at St. Roch, Indianapolis, Indiana (1961).

From 1962-1970 she was the education consultant/supervisor for the Chancery Office in the Kansas City/St. Joseph-Missouri Diocese. S. Mary Helen made 27 trips to Canada from 1966-1970, as she participated in writing religion textbooks with a team of catechists for the National Office in Canada—the only team member from the United States. Her task was writing the teachers’ manual which was published under the title, Come to the Father. Then she served as director of the Office of Religious Education in the Jefferson City-Missouri Diocese until 1974 when she received a grant from the Lily Foundation to attend Tantur, an Ecumenical Research Institute in Jerusalem with Muslims, other Christians, Jews, and a few Catholic nuns and priests. From 1975-1977 she was religious education coordinator for the Office of Catholic Education in Indianapolis.

S. Mary Helen next served as parish minister to the sick and elderly at St. Bede the Venerable Parish, Chicago (1977) becoming pastoral associate at St. Joseph Hospital in Kirkwood in 1979. Then, in 1980, she began 10 years of ministry at St. John Vianney Parish, Houston, Texas, as religious education director.

After sabbatical time in 1990, S. Mary Helen served as RCIA director at St. Joseph Parish Bonne Terre, Missouri, and subsequently as religious education director for St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Oakville, Missouri, (1992) until 1999 when she spent time in study and prayer at St. Meinrad School of Theology, St. Meinrad, Indiana.

Moving to St. Joseph Provincial House, St. Louis (2000), S. Mary Helen did spiritual companioning through retreats, recollection and praying with scripture. At the same time she volunteered, taught and was a pastoral associate at Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish.

“S. Mary Helen was loved by the members of our African-American community, attending Mass here almost every Sunday for at least seven years. When our parish merged ... to become Sts. Teresa & Bridget, Mary Helen was right in the mix of helping people connect with each other. She did not know a stranger, always speaking to visitors at Mass and finding out their stories!” —S. Pat Bober

She also volunteered and taught at Nazareth Living Center, retiring there in 2011, continuing her scripture studies for any who wished. Phil Braasch, CSJA met her there:
“... she always had a story for me. Her storytelling ability was wonderful. You could just sit there and listen like you were actually watching the story unfold.”

S. Helen Oates

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