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"With Courage, Strength and Faith:" Remembering Sr. Helen Thomas Colbert

"With Courage, Strength and Faith:" Remembering Sr. Helen Thomas Colbert

“With Courage, Strength and Faith . . .”

In Loving Memory of Helen Thomas Colbert, CSJ

May 6, 1933 – May 1, 2021

Prepared by Kathie Shute, CSJA

A photo from the 1970s in Alabama. Sr Genevieve Poirer, wearing a plaid dress, is pictured with Sr. Helen Thomas Colbert smiling at the camera
Sr. Genevieve Poirier (Lyon) and Sr. Helen Thomas Colbert pictured in Alabama.

Sister Helen Thomas Colbert, CSJ, embraced life with excitement, passion and joy – a life poured out for others in a spirit of strength, generosity and love. As she would often recall with a laugh: “Growing up with eight brothers and two sisters, I lived community life long before I became a Sister of St. Joseph! My mom taught me what it means to be strong!”

Always ready for adventure, Helen treasured summer beach days with family in Manomet, drove cross- country “just for fun,” and skied the trails north of Santa Fe; she cherished her prayer-filled experience in Taizé, and celebrated our shared CSSJ history during her visit to Le Puy-en-Velay.

Helen’s vision and openness to the challenge of new possibilities inspired her to embrace many ministries – teacher, community advocate, activist.  Always in the midst of the action, she sought to serve among those most in need: the marginalized, the invisible, the forgotten. A deeply spiritual woman, she was an unwavering voice for justice. Living always for the “dear neighbor without distinction,” her ministries spanned a lifetime of service. In the Boston area and, in subsequent years, extending to New Mexico, Alabama, and Mississippi, she brought enthusiasm, energy, deep commitment, and love to all she served.

In response to a powerful discernment experience, Ministry of Presence, Helen welcomed an opportunity to coordinate a Federation-sponsored ministry in Hayneville, Alabama. Of her time serving there with her friend and colleague, Geneviève Poirier, CSJ, Helen recalled: “Hayneville . . . was a mission of faith – freely, willingly, lovingly given. Those faith-filled women taught me how to trust in God. It was a ministry of which the Federation should always be proud!”

Sr. Helen pictured outdoors in front of white house in the 1970s, sitting on a bin with a young child on her knee. Sr. Helen is wearing blue jeans, a black graphic tee and short gray hair.

Returning to the Boston area, Helen explored new opportunities for her “retirement” years. Deeply committed to her anti-trafficking ministry, Helen was a dedicated volunteer at a local safe house, offering compassion and support to women who had been victims of human trafficking. As a constant, supportive presence among CSJ Associates, Helen welcomed, encouraged, and mentored many women as they discerned the possibility of associate relationship.

From 2001 to 2011, Helen served as secretary and teammate to Kathy McCluskey, CSJ, Federation Executive Director. While she attended to incredibly diverse details related to correspondence, records, finances, and program registrations, she became a beloved helpmate to leaders and their secretaries, sisters and lay partners across the Federation, lifting their hearts with her humor and care. Kathy says “I could not have asked for a better companion!”

Sr. Helen pictured in her motorized wheelchair smiling at the camera, wearing a bright orange polo shirt, with the CSJ Boston embroidered on it.Most recently, Helen served at The Women’s Table, a CSJ Sponsored Ministry in Brighton. As she reflected: “The Women’s Table . . .  has touched and blessed my heart!”  In recognition of her spirit of generosity, connection and compassion, The Women’s Table honored Helen with the Compassionate Strength Award, given posthumously on May 5, 2021.

Facing a devastating diagnosis of ALS, Helen maintained her faith-filled hope, choosing joy, exuberance and zest for life. Always an enthusiastic driver, she took delight in demonstrating her “fancy new wheels.”  A true and loyal friend, she eagerly mastered innovative communication technologies in order to maintain daily contact with her extended family and many friends. Zoom, Facebook, text-messaging, computerized speech – Helen was there!   As she affirmed: “This is . . .  my life, my journey. I will accept it, embrace it, get to know it and live it deeply with courage, strength and faith.”

Helen passed away on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, May 1, 2021, and was buried on May 6, what would have been her eighty-eighth birthday. In love and gratitude, we remember her and celebrate the gift of her presence in our lives.