Sister Helen Foos, a member of the Ursuline order of nuns for 71 years who taught until her retirement in 1999 but remained active by sewing and quilting until recently, died Wednesday at Ursuline Center on Indian Road.
Sister Helen, 91, had been in failing health and had difficulty breathing, said Sister Kathleen Padden of the Ursuline Convent of the Sacred Heart. The cause of death was heart-related, she said.
Sister Helen took the religious name of Sister Mary Aloysius when she entered the convent in 1941, but she resumed using her baptized name after nuns were given that option following the reforms of Vatican II.
St. Bernarda Breidenbach, a fellow Ursuline nun, recalled an upbeat colleague who was happiest when helping other people.
“She was always, always smiling,” Sister Bernarda said. “She made people feel welcome. She had that Ursuline hospitality.”
Sister Helen was a grade-school teacher throughout the Catholic Diocese of Toledo.
She began teaching at Toledo’s St. Francis de Sales, followed by postings at St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Agnes, Rosary Cathedral, and St. John the Baptist.
Her teaching assignments elsewhere in the diocese took her to St. Mary’s in Tiffin, St. Gerard in Lima, and Nazareth Hall at Grand Rapids. She received outstanding educator awards from Rosary Cathedral and St. Gerard.
She spent two years as a diocesan supervisor, in which she observed other teachers and helped them develop professionally, Sister Bernarda said.
She taught at the former St. Angela Hall, a Catholic elementary school in Toledo’s Old West End, that was part of the part of the former Ursuline campus, and served as the school’s principal for three years.
Sister Helen was born in Bowling Green on April 17, 1921, to Clara and Clarence Foos.
She graduated from Bowling Green High School, but in her junior year around 1936, she was a boarding student at St. Ursula Academy on Collingwood Boulevard.
She received bachelor’s degrees in arts and in science from the former Mary Manse College in Toledo and her master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame.
Advanced course work was done at the University of Toledo, Central Michigan University, Miami University, and Mary Mount College in Milwaukee.
Sister Kathleen, who keeps the order’s archives, said Sister Helen’s focus during her post-graduate studies was in exploring methods of teaching reading fundamentals to children in grades three through five. Beginning in 1991, she worked as a teacher’s aide at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish school.
Even in her 80s, long after retiring from teaching, Sister Helen remained busy making pillows, purses, and potato pockets used for microwaving.
In a 2005 interview, Sister Helen said she didn’t have time to become bored. She turned her seamstress hobby into a profit-making venture, crafting some 2,000 pillows, purses, and tote bags to sell at parish bazaars to raise money for the order.
“I think she made enough pillows to supply nearly every house in metro Toledo,” Sister Kathleen said.
Sister Bernarda said Sister Helen kept a sewing machine in her room. “She was always sewing. And she was doing things for her family members,” Sister Bernarda said,
“It was my [biological] sister, who is quite a seamstress, that taught me to sew and make things some 30 years ago,” she told The Blade. “She didn’t want me to be bored when I retired.”
Sister Kathleen said Sister Helen used her talents to provide others with sewn or knitted items. Some of her crafts were placed in the gift store on the Ursuline campus and her bigger quilting projects were used for raffles during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
“I would be surprised if she made anything for herself,” she sad.
In 2008, she and about 150 other nuns from various orders participated in a “nun run” fund-raiser. The event involved walkers, runners, and nuns in wheelchairs.
Sister Helen is survived by her biological sisters, Hilda Durliat, Margaret Feltes, Mary Louise Reimer, Donna Jean Bochneck, Jane Horner, and brothers Raymond, James, and Thomas Foos.
A visitation will be held at 9:30 a.m. today at Little Flower Catholic Church, with a funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m.
Memorials are suggested to the Ursuline Convent. Coyle Funeral Home handled the arrangements.
Contact Jim Sielicki at: email@example.com or 419-724-6050.