Helen Hammack

Birth:  July 11, 1920
Profession:  Feb. 11, 1953
Death:  Mar. 16, 2009

Helen Hammack, RSCJ, healer, missionary, chef, teacher, and lover of family, died March 16, 2009 at Oakwood.

Sister Hammack was the first of four girls born to Helen Theis and Valentine Hammack in San Francisco, California. Ten days after her birth, she was baptized at Star of the Sea Church, then taken by her maternal grandfather to St. Ignatius Church, where she was consecrated to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

In 1937, she received a scholarship to San Francisco College for Women (Lone Mountain) through the influence of Reverend Mother Rosalie Hill. There, she earned a degree in chemistry with a minor in physics and mathematics, then an R.N. at St. Mary’s Hospital, where she was in charge of the maternity floor for two years.

On October 20, 1944, she entered the Society of the Sacred Heart but was dismissed after ten months with the diagnosis of “no vocation.” Helen returned to Lone Mountain, took classes in history and philosophy, and asked to re-enter the Society. Mother Gertrude Bodkin, superior at Kenwood, agreed to accept Helen as her “own” novic and, although she reported her noviceship as difficult, Helen made her first vows at Kenwood on May 1, 1947.

Sister Hammack had a twenty career in education during which she made her final profession in Rome on February 11, 1953 and completed an M.A. in education and an M.S. in biology at the University of San Francisco and a M.P.H. in nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley. She served as Chair of the Biology department at Lone Mountain from 1959 to 1969, Chair of the Biology department at the University of San Diego from 1969 to1971, and Chair of the Education department at St. Joseph’s Teacher Training College in Nkoze, Uganda, from 1974 to 1976.

She was trained in oncology nursing at St. Mary’s Hospital in 1978, then as  a hospice nurse in 1979. Her ministry with the sick and dying began in the late seventies and continued until her retirement at Oakwood in 2000. Among her richest memories were her years serving AIDS patients at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in San Francisco, at the invitation of Archbishop Quinn.

Following her Golden Jubilee in 2003, Sister Hammack wrote the following on her thank-you card: “It is no accident that this part of life is described as ‘growing old.’ You can focus on ‘growing’ or you can focus on ‘old.’ Growing old is active change and movement; ‘old’ is what happens when ‘growing’ stops. Keep growing!”