Pastoral leader at parishes in Peshtigo, Walsh, steps down

By Tom Beschta | For The Compass | July 13, 2016

PESHTIGO — Sr. Helen Plum is no stranger to the uncertainties of “tomorrow.”

Throughout her many years as a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Plum has traveled around the world, never fully knowing what the next sunrise will bring. From the U.S., to Rome, to Germany and Brazil, Sr. Helen has learned to live with what she can carry and God’s guidance.

Sr. Helen Plum is retiring from her role as pastoral leader of St. Mary Parish in Peshtigo and SS. Joseph and Edward Parish in Walsh, a role she has held for 11 years. (Tom Beschta | For The Compass)
Sr. Helen Plum is retiring from her role as pastoral leader of St. Mary Parish in Peshtigo and SS. Joseph and Edward Parish in Walsh, a role she has held for 11 years. (Tom Beschta | For The Compass)

Now, as she nears retirement from her role as pastoral leader of St. Mary Parish in Peshtigo and SS. Joseph and Edward Parish in Walsh, Sr. Helen is once again putting her tomorrow in God’s hands.

“Wherever the Lord leads me I know I need to let go of what was, because there is something else he has in mind for me,” she said. “I don’t know where that will be next, but I just sense that he has called me from this to something else.”

Sr. Helen, who celebrated her 75th birthday in June, is originally from Milwaukee, where she and her siblings were raised by German immigrants. Because of her German lineage, Sr. Helen said she was raised bilingually.

“I remember my mother telling me, ‘You may need to know the German language,’” she said. “As you can imagine around that time, it wasn’t very popular to walk around speaking German.”

Sr. Helen began her education in Milwaukee at St. Leo School in 1947 and graduated from Messmer High School in 1959. With her Catholic upbringing, Sr. Helen said faith became a very strong part of her life.

“Each one of us had to claim the faith for ourselves,” she said. “Having claimed my faith, I knew I was being called to religious life.”

In the fall of 1959, Sr. Helen entered the School Sisters of Notre Dame while continuing her education. She received degrees in German and sociology from Mt. Mary University, as well a degree in theology from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.

Sr. Helen worked as a teacher for many years, covering a variety of grades. In 1980, while teaching in Rudolph, Wis., she said something began to change in her.

“I just felt an inner restlessness that God was calling me to something,” she said. “Then one day the Scripture was, ‘Whom shall I send?’ I finally knelt down before the altar in Rudolph and said, ‘OK God, send me. Just send me and I will go.’”

The very next morning, Sr. Helen received a surprising phone call.

“I received a call from Rome and they asked if I would be willing to go there to be a translator and interpreter for the School Sisters of Notre Dame revision committee,” she said.

Certain of what she had to do, Sr. Helen left for Europe, where she spent the next two and a half years using her German skills as a translator. She worked in Rome helping to rewrite the constitution of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. During her time in Europe, she also taught classes in Germany.

In addition to her time in Europe, Sr. Helen traveled to a number of different countries, including Brazil and Honduras, where she participated in mission trips and leadership conferences. When she returned to the states 1982, she was hired as the director of religious education at St. Henry Parish in Watertown.

Sr. Helen said that while there was always uncertainty about where she would end up next, she trusted that God would lead her.

“It’s learning to be open to the guidance of the spirit,” she said. “The spirit will lead you. You just have to be willing to listen.”

From 1988 to 1997, Sr. Helen worked as pastoral associate at Resurrection Parish in Allouez before being elected to leadership with the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She then moved to Peshtigo and in 2005 was appointed pastoral leader of both St. Mary and SS. Joseph and Edward parishes by Bishop David Zubik. She has embraced the role ever since.

“It’s been a very grace-filled time coming to know many people,” Sr. Helen said. “They have been very receptive. I have really found people to be very supportive, grateful and generous.”

Deacon Charles Schumacher said that in Sr. Helen’s time as pastoral leader, the parish has done a fantastic job fundraising and working toward common goals.

“She has been a very good leader who has really moved the parish forward — both spiritually and financially,” said Schumacher. “In all aspects, she has been a good leader.”

Sr. Helen said that helping families has been some of her most fulfilling work in the parish. Preparing parents for their child’s baptism, walking families through the death of a loved one and helping people reunite with the church have helped Sr. Helen realize God’s mission for her.

“That has been a real joy, because I know that God has used me as an instrument in people’s lives,” she said. “That is very humbling.”

With her time at the parish coming to an end, Sr. Helen plans to move to Green Bay, where she will live in her community with the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She will also be going on a six-week sabbatical to the Canossian Spirituality Center in Albuquerque.

Though she is retiring, Sr. Helen said she plans to remain active no matter where she is guided next.

“Trust that God is calling you to something,” she said. “Search for the Lord Jesus, and you will find him.”

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