Maryknoll, NY (Sept. 16, 2014) — A Cloquet native, and descendent of French explorers Jean Nicolet, and Louis Joliet, who taught school children in Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands for decades as a Maryknoll nun has died.
Sister Helen Louise Gleason, MM, an educator in Hawaii for over 30 years, as well as the Marshall Islands and Papua, New Guinea, died September 11, 2014, at Maryknoll Sisters Center, Maryknoll, NY. She was 85 years old.
Born on Jan. 20, 1929, in Cloquet, Minn., to William and Exilia Demers Gleason, she was one of eleven children born to the couple in Cloquet, Minn., and is a descendant on her mother’s side of Jean Nicolet, an explorer of Lake Michigan, and Louis Joliet, explorer of the Mississippi River.
After graduating from Cloquet High School, Helen entered Maryknoll Sisters at their residence in Valley Park, Mo, on Oct. 14, 1948. She received her religious name, Sister M. Evelyn John, at reception.
After making First Vows in Valley Park on May 8, 1951, Sister Helen worked in the Multigraph Department at the congregation’s Motherhouse, making her Final Vows on May 8, 1954, at the Motherhouse.
From 1954-1956, she studied at Maryknoll Teachers College, Maryknoll, NY, receiving a bachelor’s degree in education in 1956. She was then assigned to Hawaii, where she taught third grade students in Kalihi, O‘ahu, from 1956-1962, first graders in Wailuku, Maui, from 1962-1971, and the primary grades at St. John’s School, Honolulu, from 1971-1975. While teaching at St. John’s, Sister Helen also served as CCD coordinator for St. Philomena’s Parish, also in Honolulu.
Sister Helen was then sent to Majuro in the Marshall Islands, where she was principal of a grammar school, from 1975-1980. She then returned to Hawaii, where she taught the primary grades at Maryknoll Grade School, Punahou, from 1980-1983.
After a brief period serving as principal and kindergarten teacher for St. Rose School, Proctor, Minn., from 1983-1984, Sister Helen once more returned to Hawaii, where she was a kindergarten teacher at St. Ann’s School, Kaneohe, from 1984-1991.
Sister Helen was then sent to Papua, New Guinea, where she taught primary school children from 1991-1996. She then served as sacristan for the Motherhouse, Maryknoll, NY, from 1996 until being sent to work on a Native American reservation in Red Lake, Minn. in May 1999. She worked as a teacher and librarian on that reservation through May 2000 when she was sent to a reservation in her home town, Cloquet.
Sister Helen stayed in Cloquet until 2007, serving in a variety of capacities, including sacristan for Holy Family Parish, religious education teacher at Holy Family and Sts. Mary and Joseph Missions, member of Kateri Circle and Tekakwitha Conference, moderator for Cloquet Deanery of the Diocese of Duluth Catholic Women, “reading buddy” for students at Little Black Bear Ojibwe School on the Fond du Lac Reservation, and an area vocation promotion representative for her congregation. Sister Helen also assisted as a reader and Eucharistic minister at local Masses, and visited the sick in nursing care facilities, hospitals, and the homes of local shut-ins.
Sister Helen then settled at the congregation’s residence in Monrovia, CA, where she served as a driver and answered phones from 2007-2010. She returned to Cloquet, working as a school volunteer and resuming involvement with the Kateri Circle and Tekakwitha Conference, in 2010, finally returning to the Motherhouse, where she has lived since 2012.
A Vesper service will be held for Sister Helen on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, at 4:15 p.m., at the Annunciation Chapel, Maryknoll Sisters Center, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, at 11 a.m. at the same location. Burial will be in the Maryknoll Sisters Cemetery on the Maryknoll Sisters Center grounds.