Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Teacher's Mercy

Laura, over at Catholic Teacher Musings, is asking her readers to celebrate the back-to-school rush by writing a "My Favorite Teacher" post. (Laura's a teacher, in case you couldn't tell by her blog title.)

I have been blessed to have had many great teachers. Teachers who have been passionate about their vocations, and teachers who have inspired me to try to always do better than my best. I've also had many useless teachers, but thankfully it only takes a few good ones get you heading in the right direction.

But when I think of a teacher who changed my life - I mean fundamentally changed my life and the course of action it was taking - I always think fondly of Sister Helene.

Sister Helene was my second grade teacher, and she was like a smile dressed in a habit. I don't know if we ever saw Sister not smiling. Since this was second grade, Sister also had the task of getting us ready to receive our First Holy Communion. It was a tall order to fill, but Sister went about her task with an optimism and a reverence that is still with me.

I came to Sister Helene's class during a time of big personal change in my family. Second grade saw the end of my tenure as an only child with the birth of my brother. Although I was happy with him, I did hit a rough patch on The Adjustment Trail.

Part of this rough patch included pretending I was deaf and becoming a kleptomaniac. (No one ever accused me of being unoriginal!) Actually, I wasn't true klepto because I always put the stolen goods back, and that was always when I got caught. I was a bad thief with a guilty conscience. Not a great combination in the stealth department.

I saw some rubber stamps in Sister Helene's drawer, stole them, took them home for a day but never used them, and then took them back into school and put them back. Which is when she caught me. I was shaking in my shoes, but she smiled at me. Smiled! She said that she knew I was a good girl and that I just made a mistake for which she was sure I was sorry. She said she always knew I meant to bring them back. And then she sent me back to my seat. Period. I could have wept from relief and embarrassment. She never said another word to me about it and that was the end of my kleptomaniac days.

I didn't know that behind the scenes of my classroom drama, Sister was in contact with my mother. She was similarly gentle and understanding, even though, as a mother now, I can only imagine my own mother's embarrassment at her child who stole rubber stamps from a nun. Sister chalked it up to me having "a big year."

I don't think I've ever had another teacher who believed as strongly that I would do what was right and become the person she knew I could be, even though I was only seven years old. She didn't underestimate me, and I'm grateful.

So wherever she is, I say: Thank you, Sister Helene Joseph, IHM!


  1. My 2nd grade teacher was Sister Eugenia - she also smiled A LOT - must have been because both teachers knew what an awesome year it would be for us little 2nd graders! :)

    Hilarious about the rubber stamps.

    Great post.

    Hugs and blessings!

  2. i second this motion!
    i, too, loved sister helene (and i *totally* remember this time in your life- isn't that crazy?!?!?)

    mom and i made her a special holy communion wreath because we loved her so much. wonder where she is now.....?

  3. This is such a great story. It's amazing how one person REALLY can make a difference (as cliche as that sounds)
    Thank you for sharing that.

  4. ACK! I'm chastised. I'm thinking that I should be that teacher to the kids in church. There's always a higher goal, isn't there?

  5. I third that motion! Sister Helene is definitely one of my favorite teachers. I still have the little plastic wheat and grapes First Holy Communion gift she gave all of us.

    And, Aimee, I remember those klepto days. I can't count how many personalized pencils you snagged from my desk that year.

  6. This is such a perfect vignette for us to understand why Sr. Helene was such a special teacher! What a perfect way for her to handle that situation ~ proof in point that you remember it after so many years. God bless Sr. Helene!

  7. She must have been a delight. I had a smile on my face when I read it. What a feisty little girl you were...Thank you! :) Cathy

  8. could this be her?

  9. "Like a smile dressed in a habit"...what a wonderful description! Thanks for sharing this story; Sister Helene sounds wonderful.

  10. Anonymous10:25 PM

    I hope you can get in touch with her again. It would warm her heart to hear this story!


  11. i, too, like Sr Helene - she was the nun with the shining smile :)
    Kimmy, that link looks like it very well COULD be her! Nice!

    i also remember this time in your life very well. i don't think you ever snatched anything of mine, though. Funny the things we can remember from WAY back!

  12. GeeGee5:06 PM

    I also fondly remember smiling Sister Helene...and she knew my girl well. I was shocked to hear that my Aimee (who NEVER stepped out of line in school or at home!)was stealing! I was ready to ground you for life but Sr.H. smiled (of course) and told me that she knew how it could be when a new baby takes center stage; Aimee took things that she "really didn't need" and "always returned". Sr.H. just wanted to give us a "heads up" so we could give Aimee the attention she needed. What a lovely, intuitive woman (and not even a mom )...Think of her when you hear people denouncing religious as mean-spirited frustrated old women...


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