September 27, 1916 – June 27, 2012

Sister Helena Fox, PBVM, passed away at age 95 in County Cork, Ireland on June 27, 2012. A member of the order of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Cork, Ireland, she ministered in the Diocese of Juneau from April of 1984 until her return to Ireland in 1997. Born in County Cork, she joined the Presentation convent there at age 17 in 1934. Her work for the Catholic Diocese in Juneau, Alaska—later in life—involved varied assignments, from visiting the residents in St. Ann’s nursing home and the Juneau Pioneer home, to being the Defender of the Bond for the Diocesan Tribunal and sorting historical Diocesan documents. She greatly enjoyed her time and ministry in Juneau, and the freedom and robust health that life in Alaska brought her. As Sister Helena said in a 1997 Juneau Empire interview, reflecting on her years of service, “It’s a life that gives peace and brings peace.”

Sister Helena Fox helps a resident at St. Ann’s Care Center before a mass given by Fr. Peter Gorges. Photo: Michael Penn for the Juneau Empire, February 4, 1997.

Reflections by a few of her Juneau friends:
Fr. Pat Travers remembered Sister Helena in a note to Diocesan full-time ministers: “Sister Helena is one of the real heroes of the Catholic Church of Southeast Alaska (not to mention that of Ireland!). She ministered here from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, while she herself was in her 60s and 70s, and performed a variety of ministries at the Parish and Diocesan level with great ability and enthusiasm. She touched many of us who were young adults at the time very deeply, and tremendously influenced my recognition of and response to the call to priesthood. At the time of my ordination, she was Defender of the Bond of the Tribunal, helping me out greatly in my early days as a canon lawyer—in fact, I dedicated my canon law thesis to her. At a time of so much turmoil and lack of clarity in religious life and ministry, she provided us all with a wonderful model of what it means to live out a life of joyful consecration and service to God’s people. Returning to Ireland, she continued to minister actively in many ways, most recently teaching English to the many immigrant children who have entered that country in recent years. She was probably in her early 90s (Editor’s note: 95) at the time of her death—she never would let us know her exact age! I have no doubt that this holy woman is now one of the Lord’s Saints, interceding for our needs in Heaven.”

Sharon Rebar remembers:
“Sister Helena and I became friends when she was Defender of the Bond for the Diocese of Juneau. She assisted me in obtaining an annulment of my marriage. I used to tease her that she knew more about me than anyone else in the world because of the in-depth information that is required to obtain an annulment!

So, we became friends in 1990 and had some really wonderful times together for seven years. She was one of the dearest friends I have ever had, and God brought her into my life in a big way when my husband died after 15 months of marriage. She walked beside me for a very long time after his death and helped me through to the other side of grief and loss.
I would also add that she was very intelligent, spoke three languages (Irish, French and English), and was very articulate and well-ordered. She learned to drive after moving to Juneau and loved the freedom it gave her. It is important to know that she lived in a cloistered order from the age of 17 until she moved to Juneau at the age of 66. Living in a convent in Juneau gave her the most freedom in her life and she enjoyed it to the hilt.
“In addition to working full-time, she had a most active social life in the community, including among her many friends Governor and Mrs. Hickel, with whom she was daily communicants and who—like many of us—fell under her Irish spell. Helena could hold her own in any company and often had great and funny insights into the behavior of other people. She was much the center of attention and loved every minute of it. We treated her like a beloved family member, because, in some ways we were family.

“Prior to moving to Juneau, Helena had been quite sickly and after arriving enjoyed excellent health for the 15 years she lived in Juneau. She attributed this to the lifestyle she lived while in Juneau. I think that she really came into her own at the age of 67.”

Rest in peace, Sister Helena—and Pray for Us!