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!