Sister Helen Marie Shrift, CSJ, 83, died Wednesday, April 11, 2018, at Villa St. Joseph in her 66th year as a Sister of St. Joseph of Baden. The daughter of the late Cletus and Frances K. McDunn Shrift, Sister Helen Marie entered the Congregation from St. John Parish in Summerhill, PA.
For 22 years, she taught in the Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Altoona-Johnstown with her longest tenures at Annunciation in Pittsburgh (1959-63), Greensburg Catholic High School in Greensburg (1963-68), and Bishop Carroll High School in Ebensburg, PA (1968-1974). Sister Helen Marie’s passion for history took root in early ministries as a social studies teacher and extended into 30 years of service as archivist for the Congregation.
A deft conversationalist, Sister Helen Marie could easily move from weaving a colorful story to discussing weighty world issues. With a generous and compassionate heart for the poor, Sister Helen Marie, along with volunteers, regularly orchestrated a clearinghouse and caravan of clothes, food and toys for families living in rural pockets of poverty in Western Pennsylvania. Through her coordinating efforts, she once sent schools supplies, sleeping mats and 14 new jackets for a third-grade class at the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School in New Mexico, where a Sister of St. Joseph ministered.
When the aroma of sweet breads and cakes wafted through the Motherhouse weeks before the annual Harvest Festival, it was likely that Sister Helen Marie was marathon-baking in the small kitchen. Introduced to baking by her mother, Sister Helen Marie prepared dozens of homemade goods that were quickly sold out to festival-goers. In the midst of both personal and global struggles, Sister Helen Marie said she often found comfort and hope in the words of the prophet, Micah: “When I sit in darkness, the Lord should be a light within me.”
Sister Helen Marie is survived by a sister, Judith Richeal of Woodbury, N.J.; nieces, nephews, grandnieces, and grandnephews, the Associates, and the Sisters of St. Joseph. Mass of Christian Burial will be offered Tuesday, April 17 at 4:00 p.m. Burial will follow in the Sisters’ Cemetery on the Motherhouse grounds.
Donations in the name of Sister Helen Marie may be sent to the Sisters of St. Joseph Memorial Fund, Development Office, 1020 State St., Baden, PA, 15005.