Helen Maher Garvey, BVM

Former BVM President Sister Helen Garvey, BVM Dies at 82


Helen Maher Garvey, BVM
Sharing of Memories and Funeral Liturgy
Thursday, August 17

Wake Service: 11:00am-noon (CDT)
Funeral Liturgy: 1:30-3:00pm (CDT)
Link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/sisters-of-charity
Video will be available through Aug. 28


Sister Helen Maher Garvey, BVM (Robert Joseph), former president of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), died Aug. 6, 2017. Visitation will be from 9–11 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in the Motherhouse Chapel at Mount Carmel, Dubuque, Iowa, 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.

Sister Helen was born in Hempstead, N.Y., on Jan. 17, 1935, to Clarence and Ruth Maher Garvey. 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.

Her leadership spanned decades and found expression in a broad diversity of ministries and locales. 

Equipped with a Ph.D. in Organizational Development from Columbia University, she moved from serving as principal of two BVM elementary schools on Long Island, N.Y., to BVM leadership in 1976.  Only 41 at the time of her election, Sister Helen served 16 years as president and vice president of the congregation. 

In an address to the BVM congregation in August 1994, Sister Helen shared: “I hope in religious life because I experience God in religious life. I experience God in prophetic witness. I experience God in faithful relationships. I experience God in history. Mostly, I believe in religious life because I encounter the mystery of God in the total experience of religious life, personally and communally. God is here.”

During her tenure as BVM president, her compassion led to the creation of the Heartland Housing Initiative in Dubuque, and the renovation of a stately old home into apartments for 22 families, named Helen Garvey Place. 

She was elected to the three-year presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in 1986.  In this role she addressed Pope John Paul II on behalf of American women religious when he visited San Francisco in 1987. 

In 1993, she began an 11-year ministry as Director of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Lexington, Ky. She developed lay leadership and worked with parish councils in a largely rural and unchurched area.

Her service on behalf of Catholic sisters entered uncharted territory when she chaired the LCWR History Project to create a national exhibit, “Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America.” The highly acclaimed exhibit traveled to 10 cities coast to coast over a three-year period from the Smithsonian in D.C., to Ellis Island, and westward to Dubuque and other cities on the way to the California coast.

The recipient of an honorary degree from Clarke University, Dubuque, Sister Helen also served on the Board of Trustees at Clarke, Mundelein College and Loyola University in Chicago, and most recently on the Board of the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Co.

She was a consultant for the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO), assisting religious communities plan for their retirement needs, and worked with many individual religious communities as a meeting facilitator and speaker.  

In 2009, Sister Helen received the Outstanding Leadership Award from LCWR. The citation summarized the leadership gifts of this woman deeply loved and widely admired by all who encountered her: 

“A woman

      Who knows who she is, and where she stands, and what she believes

      Who listens to all opinions and finds consensus in divergent voices

      Who builds up everyone around her by expecting the best and acknowledging excellence

     Whose humor and charm open doors, rally troops, and disarm enemies

     Whose depth of knowledge in so many subjects, and understanding of human nature, empower her to connect with people from all walks of life.”