sister helen alwes


June 8, 1920 - June 28, 2009

S. Helen Alwes, though talented and gifted in so many ways, is best remembered for her beautiful inner person, which came to light in her engaging smile, in her love and concern for people, and in her desire to always be for God.

S. Helen grew up in St. Louis, attended Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish and grade school, and went to Nerinx Hall High School. After high school graduation, she worked for seven years until, as she put it, the "Hound of Heaven" would have his way. The assistant pastor at her parish nudged her into thinking once again about religious life; so with that grace she decided to enter the community, receiving the habit and name S. John Frances on March 19, 1946.

S. Helen never regretted that decision. She saw her life as filled with blessings in her varied ministries: secondary teacher; elementary teacher and administrator; administrator at the Village of St. Joseph in Atlanta, serving special needs children; administrator, Social Service Department, diocese of Atlanta; regional superior; and chaplain. In all these ways, S. Helen knew she was blessed and felt that she was truly doing God's work among the people.

But more than a person of doing, S. Helen was a person of being. A deeply spiritual person, S. Helen was God-centered without a lot of God talk. She knew what it meant to be human and taught others by her example. Her compassion and out going spirit toward everyone, but especially towards special needs children were examples of genuine love of the dear neighbor. Always personal, professional and sincere, Helen engaged others as individuals, taking special care to show concern and give attention.

In 1965, S. Helen received her Master's in social work from Fordham University, after which she was assigned to St. Joseph's Male Orphanage in Washington, Ga. Although she expressed some concern about being able to work with special needs children, she agreed to give it a try. For two years she served those boys, after which, in 1967, she was assigned as administrator at the Village of St. Joseph. Her success as a social worker culminated with her appointment as administrator of the Social Service Department for the diocese of Atlanta. She held this position for four years.

S. Helen's loving nature, her cheerful spirit, her joy in living and her engaging sense of humor suited her well when she was named a regional superior. Her term of six years (1974 - 1980) had her spending much time in Kansas City. There her sisters loved her and appreciated all that she did for them. Helen's good spirits always made it easy to be with her; she enjoyed people in a special way.

After attending the Sarah Sabbatical at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia, Kan., in 1980, S. Helen studied chaplaincy at St. Louis University and then took up a chaplain's duties at St. Joseph Hospital in Kansas City in 1982. From that time until her moving to Nazareth Living Center in 1998, S. Helen comforted many suffering persons. She prayed with them, cried with them, and was the presence of Jesus for them. She had a calming effect on the patients and their families and many remarked how she helped them to become healed.

S. Helen's last 11 years at Nazareth Living Center were centered on prayer and witness. Even though she suffered the onset of dementia, she continued to welcome others into her life with her broad smile and cheerful spirit. Her last years were filled with gratitude for what God had given to her, and, with friends, she could laugh "at really nothing." This wise, generous, fun-loving, God-centered person now enjoys God for all eternity.

 S. Rita Louise Huebner

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