Helen Johnson was very direct as I interviewed her about her retirement. She spent 33 years in service to the confreres of the Eastern Province. It was clear that this sentence summed up everything we discussed. All else is commentary.
Helen is a Baltimorean who always wanted to be a nurse. But she has always wanted to do what God wanted her to do. The priests and brothers of the Eastern Province are fortunate in having her care for them. This year also marks her 50th anniversary of serving God as a nurse.
She completed her nursing training in Baltimore. After she met her husband in Wildwood she moved to Philadelphia. Here she first worked in an Episcopalian Facility.
Beyond nursing, she has great love for her husband, their 4 children, 10 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.
In her 33 years with us, she has seen many changes – superiors, nursing directors and chaplains.. and confreres. So also doctors, nursing techniques and even many staff called to serve in Iraq.
She remembers the seven years that the Oblates of St. Francis sent their men to us until they could build their own facility. She even remembers Guy D. Lewis. He worked with her here many years ago and will return as her successor come February.
As we talked I realized what a great source of oral history she is. The history of St. Catherine’s Infirmary, yes. She also knows the history of so many of our works as recalled by those she cared for.
In her years she not only cared for our physical needs she sat vigil with many in their last hours.
I asked about the challenges. She was quick to point out that she learned not to take things personally. People were coping with the stresses of diminishment both physical and mental. It is hard to cope with the downsizing of desk, bureaus, closets and storage space. Not to mention the loss of freedom to travel and other issues of mobility.
With deep faith, she sees herself as serving God in the persons of those who can no longer take care of themselves. This is especially meaningful to her when these are persons who served God by serving others.
She praised the mutual staff support when faced with difficult behaviors.
Some of us she only knew for a short period of time. Other such as Fr. McCaffrey she cared for over a 15 year period.
Eccentricities! Another gold mine of memories. The confreres who collected various items such as aluminum foil, paper cups or who kept a cat, Tonto.
Of course, there are the treasured memories of the unexpected “thank you” from an otherwise difficult and frustrated confrere.
When I asked about her future plans she first mentioned things like closets to clean and rooms to paint. But she quickly added
I will go wherever God wants me to be.