April 10, 1915 – September 21, 2007
“Religious life has never ceased to be a mystery for me. The Scripture passage forever rings true: ‘You have not chosen me; I have chosen you.’” With these words written for her Golden Jubilee, Sister Helen Bolger summed up the inner motivation underlying the apparently placid events of her life.
Violet Helen Bolger was born April 10, 1915, on a farm near Kindersley, Saskatchewan, Canada, the youngest of seven siblings in an Irish-Canadian family. Until high school she had no contact with women religious. In grade ten she attended a boarding school run by a community from France with choir and lay sisters and old world customs not for her was that style of religious life. Later through some visiting Grand Rapids Dominicans she discovered that religious could be “warm, wholesome, happy human beings.”
So, off went Violet to faraway Marywood to finish her high school education and enter as a postulant in 1934. At reception she was given the name of Sister Mary Clarence of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which she retained for many years, returning to Helen after Vatican II.
As a young Sister, she began teaching in grade school at Mt. Carmel, Saginaw; Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Chesaning; St. Joseph, Muskegon; and Sacred Heart, Mt. Pleasant. In summer she studied at Aquinas College, receiving her B.A. in English, French, and music in 1953. She taught on the secondary level at St. Henry, Melville, Saskatchewan; Sacred Heart, Merrill; Marywood; back in Chesaning; and Alpena Catholic Central. She took graduate work at Laval University in Quebec, from which she earned her M.A. in 1961 and her Ph.D. in 1965. Then she joined the French department at Aquinas.
Because the “big house” on campus could not provide rooms for the entire community, Sister Helen joined the group who occupied a section of the House of Studies and commuted for prayers and meals. When housing policies broadened, she joined five others who pioneered in setting up community in a family-sized house across Robinson Road.
Sister Helen was also one of the first to extend educational ministry beyond traditional commitments. She accepted, first on a part-time basis, a position in the international department of Steelcase Corporation for employees and their families preparing for overseas assignments. After a sabbatical year of study at the University of Quebec, Trois Rivieres, Canada, she retired from the Aquinas faculty and kept the Steelcase position as her ministry.
Helen’s interests have been music, reading, needlepoint, swimming, and getting together with friends. “Though community life has been a mixture of pain, joy, grace and challenge, it has always been home,” she wrote. In whatever size home she lived, she was a gracious lady known for her joie de vivre and her flair for gourmet cooking. Helen had a great love for her family, especially her father, and formed deep and lasting friendships with others. When Denise, a friend from her graduate university, was afflicted with illness and other misfortunes, Helen traveled long distances to bring the support of her presence.
At the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 1995, she wrote: “They have gone so fast, these sixty years. In looking back, I sometimes wonder what I have done to be gifted with so much: community, friends, family, and a ministry of teaching that I have always loved even to this day. So from my heart I give thanks to a loving, gentle God and to all those who have meant so much to me on the exciting journey of life.”
Sister Helen is survived by nieces, nephews, many friends and Sisters in our Dominican Community.
Entered eternal life on September 21, 2007 at the age of 92 After 72 years of religious life
We commend Sister Helen to your prayers.