Thursday, June 11, 2009
A Cool Story for a Quiet Day
I was trying to decide what to post for tonight's blog and I happened upon an article that was in the last issue of our St. Mary's Seminary newspaper (which I am the editor of). It is a story about a wonderful woman who works in cafeteria. Enjoy!
Helena Terry—Forty Years of Service
"O Lord, my heart is not proud / nor haughty my eyes. / I have not gone after things too great / nor marvels beyond me." This verse from Psalm 131 evokes the humility of the demure Helena Terry, who for the past forty years has worked in the refectory serving seminarians, faculty and staff food she has helped prepare. Currently working Mondays through Thursdays from 5:30 AM to 1:30 PM, this self-proclaimed “Plain Jane” first started working at St. Mary’s Seminary in 1969, when a friend of her mother’s mentioned that the seminary was looking for extra staff help. “At that time, I wasn’t working, wasn’t looking for work really. So, I said maybe I’ll give her a call.” The manager suggested she come that evening to work a two hour shift. The decision turned out to be providential, as the manager offered her full-time day shift work by the end of that initial shift. It was a proposal she gratefully accepted, “because see, my daughter at that time was ten years old.” Working days allowed her free time in the evening to spend with her fifth-grade daughter, her youngest of four children. Her daughter is now retired from the Air Force.
Initially, Helena worked in the refectory amongst the seminarians and faculty, serving meals, clearing dishes and cleaning tables. “But I was always going back helping out in the kitchen, helping the nuns” [Sisters of the Divine Providence], a part of her job that she treasures the most. When her predecessor left, Helena moved into her position and worked thereafter in the kitchen with the Sisters. Sr. Mary Martha was her particular favorite because of her charity and kindness. She always made Helena feel like she was part of the St. Mary’s family. Today, Helena continues to be an essential part of that family, even in the simplest of tasks, such as making soups, her favorite responsibility.
From the onset of her work, Helena quickly realized that St. Mary’s Seminary was the perfect fit for her. After four decades of service, she feels the same. “When I first walked in everybody was so friendly, you know nice and friendly… happy…and Christian-like. Everybody cared about everybody else’s feelings. And I really liked it. I think that’s why I stay…I think God led me here.” When asked why, she replies simply, as a saint would. “I think, because if not, I wouldn’t have been here as long as I’ve been. And I don’t think it’s anything that I’ve done, the reason I’m here. I think it’s God’s will that I’m here this long.”
Throughout her tenure, Helena has witnessed a remarkable range of St. Mary’s history. She has witnessed the sartorial modifications of the Sisters of the Divine Providence, the change from required clerics for seminarians to laissez-faire casual, the departure of the nuns in the 70’s, the decrease in seminarians from 350 to 70, a renovated kitchen (which used to be twice the size and included its own bakery and ice cream maker), a library addition and the building of the Center. Her favorite event on campus was the visit of His Holiness Blessed John Paul II, who concluded his 1995 tour of the Archdiocese of Baltimore with silent prayer in the Chapel of the Presentation. “I was right outside. I was almost close enough to touch him, …I was just so excited. I was still excited when I got home.”
Whereas most people, after forty years of service, might choose to cross over to the promised land of retirement, Helena finds her work still fulfilling. Though she had thought about retiring at age 65, “the tables turned. I had no reason [to retire]. I enjoy working here. I enjoy the atmosphere. I enjoy being around the students because when I’m not here actually with them, it’s like I’m lonesome, because you see, I had three boys.” The seminarians are like sons to her. Like any good mother, Helena “always wanted to be in the background helping out,” so these “sons” could focus on the challenges of seminary life and formation.
This deference carries over into other areas of her life. Wednesday afternoons for the past three years have found her at the mission at Mt Pigah CME [Christian Methodist Episcopal], her home worship community for over fifty years. Born and raised in Baltimore, Helena recognizes a duty to contribute to social justice issues in her local community. “We have a bag lunch program [for the homeless], and I work with that on Wednesday evenings.” The program serves from seventy to one hundred twenty-five people every week, depending on the weather. Currently, she volunteers with four others, including her daughter, one of her sons. She is dedicated to the program, even prioritizing it over her birthday this year. She also helps set up and clean up for the once a month communion Sunday at Mt Pigah.
Whether it’s serving seminarians, the homeless, or her fellow Methodists, Helena lives the Christian ideal of decreasing so Jesus may increase. Her approach to life evokes the spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux. When asked if she knew the Little Flower, who didn’t want to be noticed in her lifetime, who wanted to do everything for God’s Will and God’s glory but who didn’t want any of the attention that went along with it, she replied, “No, but that’s me, that’s me exactly.” This rose of a woman, then, is the little flower of Saint Mary’s.
kudos to seminarian Brian Lewis from Delaware who put the story together.
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