Sister Helen Fontenot
1933 – 2016
Sr. Helen Fontenot, MSC, was born August 27, 1933 to Joseph W. Fontenot and Haddie Guillory in Chataignier, Louisiana, a small rural French farming community. For Helen, along with her siblings (Georgia and John Wendell), family life was precious, always eventful, and from an early age, they learned the need for and reward of hard work.
Educated in public school, Helen entered the Marianites of Holy Cross September 2, 1951 and pronounced her perpetual vows on August 16, 1956. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Our Lady of Holy Cross College, a Master’s degree in library science from Our Lady of the Lake College in San Antonio, Texas, and an Education Specialist Degree in Educational Technology from McNeese State University.
A woman of action, Helen used her many talents to share with the countless students, teachers, and colleagues she encountered during her life. She served for twenty years as teacher and principal in schools in New Orleans and Lake Charles. She then ministered for over thirty years on the faculty at Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans as head librarian and director of s tudent teaching. In these leadership roles, Sister diligently and devotedly worked with others to insure that the College and library grew to meet the changing challenges of multi-media and electronic education. While focused on these issues, her ministry extended beyond the walls of the institution to the individual needs of staff, students, state and national library associations, community members, family and friends. Some would say Helen was a workaholic; others would say her vision was focused. She steadfastly worked until the job was done well and the goals were accomplished.
Firmly grounded in the spirituality of the Marianites, she was a woman of prayer and compassion. In her busiest moments, if someone needed her individual attention, she stopped and patiently rendered assistance. Sister Helen had a gift for getting what or whom she wanted, but she always took time to give God praise in her ‘Litany of Thanks’ each time she had to give a public talk.
I thank you, Lord, that Sister Helen enjoyed memories of the past, but was not afraid to forge into the future. I thank you for her joy and knack for living life to its fullest, for her love of coconut cake, cornbread, celebrating her birthday at K-Mart and especially that her last day was one of celebration for a place she loved with people she loved.
(Paraphrased from Diane Schaubhut, Librarian, University of Holy Cross)
Sister also relished enjoyment! She rarely missed an opportunity to gather folks for outings to the mall, the theater, and to spend time with her many friends while enjoying good Cajun food. An avid sports fan of the Saints and Pelicans, her exuberant cheering of her beloved teams could be heard by all.
Three years ago, Sr. Helen moved to the Marianite convent in Opelousas and began a new ministry of supporting the Louisiana Orphan Train Museum. Her Cajun wings took flight as she used her French language to welcome people from all over the world who came to visit the museum and to learn the stories of the children who made the arduous journey on the orphan train to be placed with families and find new homes in southwest Louisiana. The museum was so dear to Helen’s heart because long ago her own father had been one of the orphans. Her sharing with others was from a heart that intimately knew their poignant stories. (www.laorphantrain.com).
Among her many awards, Sr. Helen received the Louisiana Association of Educators President’s Award, the Sr. Mary Aquin Lorio Memorial Award from the New Orleans Catholic Library Association, the Outstanding Cooperating Teacher Award, and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans.
Her last day, November 9, 2016, was one of jubilation as she joined with several hundred people at the Cathedral in New Orleans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Holy Cross College, now the University of Holy Cross. Unbeknownst to Helen, her life had come full circle. During the celebration, she re-connected with so many folks who had become interwoven in the tapestry of her life and of her journey on this earth. The very next day, November 10th, the carpet for her to step into eternal life was suddenly laid before her and she was welcomed by the God she served so faithfully. Helen suffered a massive heart attack and died on November 10, 2016 at 6:45 PM in Baton Rouge, LA at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.
On November 15, 2016, Sisters, family, friends from her home town, and colleagues gathered in the chapel at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Nursing Home for the mass of the Resurrection to celebrate a life well-lived. Helen’s remains were put to rest in St. Landry Cemetery in Opelousas, LA.
In addition, a memorial mass in Helen’s honor was held in the Moreau Center at the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans on November 21st.
A quote from her dear friend, Sr. Barbara Dupuis, seems fitting to end Helen’s memoriam: “Helen had a focused vision. She was an encourager, an enabler, a good listener, a spirit-lifter, and a challenger!”
May our dear Sister Helen’s soul rest in peace!