Helen Maher Garvey, BVM (Robert Joseph)

Helen Maher Garvey, BVM (Robert Joseph) died Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, at Marian Hall in Dubuque, Iowa. Visitation will be from 9–11 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in the Motherhouse Chapel, followed by a prayer service at 11 a.m. Funeral liturgy will be at 1:30 p.m. Burial is in the Mount Carmel cemetery.

She was born in Hempstead, N.Y., on Jan. 17, 1935, to Clarence and Ruth Maher Garvey. She entered the BVM congregation Sept. 8, 1952, from St. Martha Parish, Uniondale, N.Y. She professed first vows on March 19, 1955, and final vows on July 16, 1960.

From 1976–92, Sister Helen served on the BVM congregation’s leadership team. Also during that time, she was elected president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). She was organizational consultant and director of the Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America exhibit. She served on the board of the National Catholic Reporter. In earlier ministries, Sister Helen taught elementary school in Chicago and Antioch, Ill.; Fort Dodge, Iowa; and West Hempstead, N.Y. She was principal in Bellerose and Hempstead, N.Y. She served as director of pastoral services for the Diocese of Lexington, Ky. She ministered as facilitator for various religious communities and was active in many congregational committees.

She was preceded in death by her parents; brothers Thomas and Robert; and a sister, Eugenia Garvey, OSU. She is survived by brothers Joseph (Warwick, N.Y.) and Eugene (Tinton Falls, N.J.); sisters Therese Fox (Brecksville, Ohio) and Kathleen (James Kearnz) Garvey (Warwick, N.Y.); sister-in-law Pat Garvey, East Marion, N.Y.; nieces; nephews; and the Sisters of Charity, BVM, with whom she shared life for 65 years.

Sister Helen Maher Garvey, BVM (Robert Joseph)
Funeral Welcome
Motherhouse, Aug. 17, 2017

The BVM community, those present here and those with us on livevideo streaming, welcome Helen’s family, Archbishop Jackels, members of religious congregations, representatives of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the National Catholic Reporter (NCR)—friends all.

We gather at this liturgy to celebrate the life of Helen Maher Garvey and commend her to our loving God. For us, Helen was a mentor, a confidante, a companion, a leader, and a dearfriend.

Helen was born on Jan. 17, 1935, in Hempstead, N.Y., and she never completely lost her beloved New York accent. She was the sixth of eight children born to Clarence and Ruth Maher Garvey. Mary, who entered the Ursuline congregation, Thomas and Robert preceded her in death. Therese, Joseph, Eugene and Kathleen are with us today. In writing about her family, Helen expressed it this way: “I recognize a wholesome, large family atmosphere where I was loved. A religious tone permeated a lively existence.” Stories of family life that we heard earlier today bear this out.

Helen entered the BVM congregation in September 1952, and she was given the name Sister Mary Robert Joseph. After first vows in 1955, Helen ministered in elementary schools as a teacher and later a principal in the states of Illinois, Iowa and New York.

For 16 years, Helen served in leadership in the BVM congregation, as vice president and then president. Consultation, collaboration and consensus building characterized her leadership style. She did this with patience, optimism and a sense of humor. As we look back to those years, we know that Helen used her gifts to remind us of the beauty and goodness of religious life—as our way of being united with the Spirit andfacing the challenges and opportunities of our time. She shared her wisdom and her love.

Helen’s talents were recognized beyond the BVM community as she was elected to the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. In this role, Helen welcomed Pope John Paul II when he visited the United States in 1987, and she boldly kissed him as sign of her love for the church.

Helen received the Outstanding Leadership Award from LCWR in 2009. The citation included these words: A woman who knows who she is, where she stands, and what she believes.

Article 82 of the BVM Constitutions states: “Our elected leaders bear a special responsibility to facilitate, encourage and inspire Gospel living within the congregation, and to extend our BVM presence and voice into the broader church and civic community.” Helen lived this role as many religious congregations called on her for guidance and assistance. In striving to deepen the sense of church for all members, Helen worked as Director of Pastoral Services in Lexington, Ky., and as a board member for the National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

Helen loved literature, history, politics and stories. We shared many of our favorites this morning and over the dinner table today. Some we hold deep in our hearts. Helen was responsible for telling the nation the story of women religious as she chaired the LCWR project producing the exhibit, “Women and Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America.”

At one of the planning meetings, the group became discouraged and Helen declared that they could not continue the project; it was too difficult. A consultant assisting the group heard this and said: “Why are you afraid of a little exhibit when your foremothers, with little or no money, crossed the ocean, navigated rivers, learned a new language, nursed in the Civil War, raised money and built schools and hospitals?” Upon hearing this, Helen gathered her courage and determination and said, “Yes, we will do this.” The exhibit, telling a remarkable story, went forth and was splendidly received.

Recently Helen had a conversation with a friend, reminiscing about many stories. Helen repeated the quote, “God lurks in our stories.” (Lurk: to be hidden but capable of being discovered.) God lurked and was ever present in Helen’s life, in her leadership and her love for family, community, friends and us. In her kindness and her writings, she led us to know the loving God who is always present with us and among us. We are grateful for her life with us and commend her to a loving God.