Sr. Mary Helen McKenna, SC, of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, died May 29, 2019, at the age of 98 in Mother Margaret Hall, the nursing facility for the Sisters of Charity. Sister Mary Helen was born on Dec. 7, 1920, to John and Helen (McCall) McKenna in Jackson, Michigan. She had one brother. Sister Mary Helen was a Sister of Charity for 80 years.
Sister Mary Helen grew up in Jackson attending St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic schools, graduating from the parish high school in 1939. She was taught by the Sisters of Charity for all 12 years. She chose to become a Sister of Charity in September 1939. “It was their self-sacrifice and consecration to God that attracted me to imitate their gift-of-self to God and the Church,” Sister Mary Helen shared at the time of her Jubilee.
Sister Mary Helen earned the Bachelor of Science in Education from the Athenaeum (Cincinnati, Ohio) in 1943 and the Bachelor of Arts in English from the College of Mount St. Joseph (Cincinnati) in 1952. It was in 1959 that she completed a master’s degree in English from the University of Detroit.
Sister Mary Helen’s ministries included more than 45 years as a dedicated teacher and elementary principal; wherever she served she was regarded as an excellent educator. She began her ministry at St. Mary, Hyde Park (Cincinnati) in 1943. Next she went to St. Leo, Detroit, Michigan (1946-’52); then to Shrine High School, Royal Oak, Michigan (1952-’54); Queen of Martyrs as principal, Birmingham, Michigan (1954-’59); St. Albert, Kettering, Ohio (1959-’61); St. Leo, Detroit (1961-’64); St. Charles, Kettering, Ohio, as principal (1964-’69); St. Luke, Detroit, Michigan (1969-’71); Elizabeth Seton High School, South Holland, Illinois (1971-’72); St. Mary, Albuquerque, New Mexico (1973-’74); Sacred Heart, Colorado Springs, Colorado (1976-’77); Pauline Memorial, Colorado Springs (1977-’78); Mount Campus School, Cincinnati, Ohio (1978-’79); St. William, Cincinnati (1979-’85); and St. Boniface, Cincinnati (1985-’87). In between Sister Mary Helen worked in a parish setting at St. Benedict, Florence, Colorado (1972-’73) and as religious education coordinator at Christ the King parish, Pueblo, Colorado (1974-’76).
In 1987 she chose to look to ministry at Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati serving as an assistant in the Child Life Activity Program. There she enjoyed planning creative and engaging activities for hospitalized children in music, art, drama and poetry; she remained there until 1995. She found it very life-giving. Sister volunteered throughout the 1990s in Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati. Her leisure activities included reading and listening to classical music. Sister Mary Helen moved to Mother Margaret Hall nursing facility in 2001 where she served in the ministry of prayer.
Sister Dorothy William Englert recalls how her former fourth grade teacher, as a young Sister, played ‘keep away’ with the students on the playground. When she had Sister Mary Helen for sixth grade at St. Mary, Hyde Park she had them doing debates. Sister Dorothy said, “When I visited her in Mother Margaret Hall nursing facility she would talk about school days, but never about politics or religion. Though her sight had failed, her hearing allowed her to enjoy classical music and TV news. Now she is listening to the angels.”
Sister Mary Helen was preceded in death by her brother, John.
Sisters and family will greet visitors in the Heritage Room of the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse from 2 until 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 6, 2019, followed by the Mass of Christian Burial at 3 p.m. in the Motherhouse chapel. Burial will be in the Sisters of Charity cemetery.
Memorials can be made in Sister Mary Helen McKenna’s name to the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Retirement Fund, 5900 Delhi Rd., Mount St. Joseph, Ohio 45051.