50 Years: Helen Mason, SP

On the day I left my birthplace of Walla Walla, Wash., September 6, 1964, my pastor and very special family friend Msgr. Hugo Pautler gave me a special blessing. His words have stayed with me:

“Never be afraid to go where God leads you.”

On hearing those words, I felt strength and support from God, and I have never regretted my choice!

I was born November 6, 1945, at St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla and was baptized in my parish church, St. Patrick’s. It was there that I received all my sacraments, professed my final vows in 1973 and celebrated 25 years of religious life at my silver jubilee in 1990.

Studied with the Sisters as a child

I first met the Sisters of Providence before I went to school, seeing them at St. Vincent Academy and at St. Mary Hospital (now Medical Center). Since I attended eight grades at St. Patrick School and graduated from DeSales High School, I had Sisters of Providence as teachers for 12 years. Several sisters liked to come out to our farm, so I also knew them as friends. They all had very different personalities and gifts, but seemed to be happy in their vocation.

My first inspiration to enter the sisters came from my fifth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Aquinata (O’Neill), when she told our class about the new program of sister formation that would begin in Issaquah, Wash. My lifelong dream was to be a teacher like my Aunt Louise. I entered the religious community on Sept. 8, 1964, at Providence Heights in Issaquah, having graduated that spring.

My first ministry was teaching grade school at St. Francis Xavier School in Missoula, Mont., for two years. Near the end of the second year, a new ministry in religious education was developing in north Idaho. Since I had begun a program in religious education training, I volunteered to be one of the two Sisters of Providence who would do this new work. From 1971 to 1980, my ministry was religious education coordinator for hundreds of families in 12 geographically vast parishes in north Idaho’s 120-mile panhandle. In that role, I was involved in preparations, teaching, planning and administration. I strived for good communication among the laity and the involvement of many.

Farm-girl background integral to ministry interests

My background as a farm girl has had an integral role in determining my ministry interests. I care about smaller towns because they have a lot of potential for growth, sometimes untapped. That ministry enabled me to become more human, to care more about others, and to be more aware of the needs of families since I had been directly immersed in their lives and concerns. It also forced me to question my own values and priorities.

My favorite ministry has always been relating to those who have left the Church, since I have relatives who have done that. This new work in religious education put me in contact with people in that situation. Later on, in parish ministry at St. Mary’s in the Spokane Valley for eight years, I had many opportunities to encourage people to return to the Church and sometimes helped with the process of annulments.

My many ministries have included: serving as a member of the Sisters’ Senate in Idaho and in Spokane, and being president of both; being one of two vicars for religious in Idaho, 1978-80; coordinating the Neighborhood Parish Program for 49 small groups in St. Mary’s Parish, Spokane Valley, and coordinating the RCIA program and visiting the homes of 1,440 families. On July 1, 1988, I was appointed provincial secretary for the former St. Ignatius Province and served in that ministry for 12 years, until the merger of the two western U.S. provinces. As part of my work, I computerized the files of 800 sisters (living and deceased) of St. Ignatius Province. I have also served on the boards of four Providence hospitals.

Has lived apart from sisters for much of her career

On March 20, 2000, (the feast of St. Joseph that year), I moved to Walla Walla to live with my mother, Agnes Mason, back on the family farm. I worked at Assumption Parish doing home visiting for three years, and also began my current ministry of writing the chronicles for Providence Services (now Providence Health Care) for 15 facilities in eastern Washington and Montana. For much of my religious life I have lived away from other sisters, without the exchange, sharing and common activities that build community. But for me, the relationship with other sisters is solid enough to sustain community identity and unity during periods of absence.

The sisters enrich me because they make me more aware of other apostolates and help complete my vision of Church. And they really are interested in me and my work.

I have a great interest in the rich history of the religious community in the northwest region. I have researched and written four bound histories: of St. Ignatius Province itself, and of three institutions within its boundaries – St. Mary Medical Center, Walla Walla; Mary Immaculate School, DeSmet, Idaho; and St. Patrick Hospital, Missoula. The sisters came to my birthplace of Walla Walla in 1879 to establish a health-care ministry. I have been blessed to follow in their footsteps.

Providence of God, I thank you for all!