“I am terribly human. I rejoice that I am. I am also God’s Child. I cannot be grateful enough for this blessing. I ask your patience, dear sister.” -Sister Jeannette, 1976.
Mary Helen Chiasson, born September 14, 1930, in Ecorse, MI, was the daughter of Theodore and Mary Azelia Savoie Chiasson, who had come to the United States from New Brunswick, Canada. Two brothers, Joseph Norman and Joseph Leonard, completed the family.
Mary Helen first met the Grand Rapids Dominicans who were her CCD teachers at St. Mary Magdalene School, Melvindale, for the first and second grades. She enrolled there as a full-time student in grade three. Following eighth-grade graduation she attended St. Francis Xavier High School in Ecorse. Not waiting to graduate there, she joined the Dominicans and had her sixteenth birthday as a postulant. Teaching appealed to her and “the deep faith life of my parents encouraged and nurtured my early desire to become a Sister.” Sister Leonora tutored her and she completed her high school credits in no time at all. She treasured the time spent with Sister Leonora because in her own words: “We dwelt on much more than Spanish, English, etc. Sister’s holiness inspired me very much.”
Mary Helen entered the novitiate as Sister Jeannette of the Holy Family. After profession in 1948 she began 35 years of teaching and administration. From her first assignment in St. John School, Essexville, she went to schools in Munger, San Juan Pueblo New Mexico, Grand Rapids, Bay City, Taylor, Dearborn Heights and Melvindale.
Her education included a B.A. from Aquinas College in 1963; M.A. in Education from Central Michigan University; and certificate from Veterans Administration Medical Center, Colorado (Alcohol/Drug Counselor); Michigan Substance Abuse Services (Alcohol/Drug Abuse); Mercy Hospital (Pastoral Education); and Otero College, Colorado (Alcohol/Drug Counsel).
A life-long early riser, Sister Jeannette was ever faithful to daily Mass and Morning Prayer. After years of teaching and administration, she came to terms with the effect of chemical dependency on her life and work. In 1982 she began her life-long road to recovery. Sister Jeannette requested and received permission to begin training as a substance abuse councilor at Mercy Hospital in Muskegon, Michigan. She earned a certificate as an Alcohol/Drug Trainer in 1984. Thus began the second phase of her life in ministry – and one that she held most dear.
In this phase of ministry, she transformed her own suffering and recovery from chemical dependency to become an advocate and councilor for those suffering from addictions of every kind. She was described as a patient and kind person whose manner was marked by compassion and understanding. Not only did she help individuals suffering from chemical dependency, but she was a support and advocate for the families of these individuals. It was a work that she found most rewarding.
In 1993 she began her last ministry as a pastoral minister at St. Catherine’s Parish in Ravenna and St. Francis in Conklin, Michigan. Here she assisted with vigil services, Bible study, RCIA, visiting the sick and elderly and assisting Sister Peter Mary in the work of the parish school administration.
Sister Jeannette enjoyed going to a good movie and loved laughter and the antics of the school children. Her hobbies and interests were reading, walking, puzzles, cards, visiting and crafts. “I cherish the loving support, inspiration, prayerful example and challenge I’ve experienced as a member of the Marywood Dominican family.”
In 1980 Sister Jeannette wrote: “I am very thankful to Our Heavenly Father and my community of Dominican Sisters for the love and concern they have given me throughout my life as a Dominican Sister. I appreciate the opportunities my Community has given me via my education and communal living. It has been, and is, a privilege to serve as a Principal/Classroom Teacher in our schools. May I say a special ‘God Bless YOU!’ to all the Sisters I have personally known. Thank you for your friendship and loving support. I ask forgiveness of all I’ve offended, and ask God to bless you abundantly. May we all look forward to a grand Dominican celebration under Our Lady’s Mantle as time gives way to eternity. Please pray for me.”
On Thursday August 6, the Feast of Transfiguration, time gave way to eternity for Sister Jeannette, God’s Child, Blessed and Blessing to those who knew her, held dear by her friends and missed by her community.
Entered eternal life on August 6, 2009
At the age of 78
After 62 years of religious life