October 25, 1926 — March 10, 2013
Teacher, Principal, nursing assistant, Director of Montessori Matters, medical driving – Sister Helen Denise filled all of these positions with grace and dignity during her more than 60 years of religious life. In each of them she fulfilled her desire to be of service to her good God, to her Sisters, students and associates.
Sister Helen Denise began life in Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of John and Anna (Hodapp) Somers, on October 25, 1926. Two weeks later, on November 7, she was baptized Norma Jeanne at Holy Trinity Church. With this beginning, she was on her life journey which would continue with a family that included 3 sisters and 1 brother. Her elementary education took place at Holy Trinity School. There she also received the next two sacraments of her Catholic faith: her First Holy Communion and the blessing of Confirmation. After completing grade school, Norma continued her studies at Julienne High school.
After her graduation in 1944, Norma entered with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Reading, Ohio, on August 14. The following February, she received the habit of Notre Dame and the religious name Sister Helen Denise. This was the name by which she was known for the rest of her life. On her application to enter with the Sisters of Notre Dame she was asked why she chose Notre Dame. She answered simply: “I studied under the Sisters for 12 years and admired them. I witnessed the peace and happiness that reigned among the Sisters.”
Sister Helen Denise’s ministry life began with 23 years as teacher and principal. Twenty of these years were spent with the first and second graders. This career in the classroom began at St. Stephen School in Hamilton, Ohio, 1947-1950. Then she was on to Chicago for three years at St. Peter Canisius, 1950-1953. After this, she returned to Ohio for the next 13 years. Her next assignments included: The Summit Country Day school, Cincinnati, 1953-1954; St. Helen, 1954-1955; Holy Angels, 1955-1957; St. James, 1957-1958 and St. Agnes, 1958-1963, all in Dayton. Then she went to southern Ohio where she taught grade five at Sts. Peter & Paul in Reading, 1963-1965. Next on her itinerary was St. Michael, Sharonville, 1965-1969, where she was Principal and second grade teacher. Sister Helen Denise completed her formal classroom career teaching intermediate grades at Most Holy Trinity, Phoenix, Arizona, 1970-1971.
The interval, 1969-1970, Sister Helen Denise spent at Julie Hall giving Community service and beginning work as a nursing assistant. Then in 1971, demonstrating her flexibility, she accepted the responsibility of Director of Montessori Matters. Her long teaching experience prepared her for that ministry. For the next 30 years she worked tirelessly at creating new materials for students in Mon-tessori programs and assisting other Sisters who were working on these materials. The major portion of her energies during this period, however, was spent in handling the shipping of these materials world-wide in an efficient and timely manner. This gave her a connection with students, a way to help them along their educational journey to being productive adults even though she never saw them face-to-face.
In addition to the Montessori Matters, during this time Sister Helen Denise was involved in medical driving and assisting in hair care. These last two activities she continued for three years after her time with Montessori Matters. All of these activities certainly helped to fulfill her desire to be involved with service to those with special need.
On the lighter side, Sister Helen Denise delighted in creating decorations for Community events, making Halloween costumes out of “available” materials, planning Community parties for Christmas and New Year celebrations. Each and every one of these activities had that “special touch” that identified her work! Sister was always available for anyone who needed assistance.
These many activities in ministry requiring energy, creativity and adaptability were an inspiration to her SND Sisters. However her final adaptation to the loss of her sight was, perhaps, her most impressive accomplishment. With great determination, Sister Helen Denise mastered the skills necessary to continue to live independently in the sudden darkness of blindness. In this darkness, however, her spirit remained bright. The day after she became totally blind, she calmly confided to a sister, “Now I have a NEW ministry.” Through the following years she maintained the ability to care for herself; to navigate the many halls of Mt. Notre Dame with agility and to be a cheerful companion to the Sisters with whom she lived.
It was most fitting that the liturgy on the day Sister Helen Denise entered eternity invited her to
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!”
Alma Grollig, SNDdeN
March 11, 2013