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Helen Rosenthal, RSCJ: A lifetime of "yes"

  • Helen Rosenthal, RSCJ, Honored as Woman of Conscience

“Do you love the Lord enough to go on missions for him?” asked the Mother General of Helen Rosenthal, an RSCJ in Rome in 1959. Thus began Sister Rosenthal’s 20-year journey as a missionary.

A child of the Sacred Heart through and through, Sister Rosenthal graduated from the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles and is an alumna of Maryville University in St. Louis. She entered the Society at Kenwood in 1950 after which she was assigned to work at a number of schools in the Network, including Villa Duchesne in St. Louis, the Rosary in New Orleans and Clifton, in Cincinnati, where she doubled the enrollment of the primary school during her stay. As a probanist, Sister Rosenthal was sent to the Trinita as Sacristan for Mater. It was here that Mother Benziger, Assistant General, guided Sister Rosenthal to her mission in Chile.

Just after final vows in February of 1960, Sister Rosenthal traveled to Viña del Mar where, like St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, she arrived in a new country with little knowledge of the language or customs. Before leaving Rome, she asked one of the Spanish nuns how to ask for a blessing from the Superior in Spanish! From those first few words, Sister Rosenthal journeyed through 20 years of doing “a little bit of everything.” She began working in the middle school; she taught English to third and fourth graders, even translating the Scott Foresman Reader for them. Sister Rosenthal grew into the roles of Surveillante General for the whole school, division head of the grade school and later on became Head of School, which soon had over 600 students. Then she was sent to Concepcion, where the provincial asked her to merge the grade school and the free school. Later on, after having attended the Institute for Religious Formation at St. Louis University in 1973-1974, she became Spiritual Director for the19 RSCJ communities in Chile, taking on the role of Superior for the community in Talca in the south, and local superior of the community in Coquimbo, the poorest region in the north.

Sister Rosenthal’s journey, like that of Philippine, was not without its challenges. Because only two of the RSCJ in the four large schools in Chile had degrees, Sister Rosenthal was asked to get a degree while in Chile. While working full-time in the schools, she received two Master’s degrees (education and guidance and counseling) attending night classes at the Catholic University of Valparaiso, Chile. In 1965, an earthquake struck the area, destroying the convent that was soon declared uninhabitable by the Navy. Sister Rosenthal had to move the entire school first to a house lent to them by the bishop and later to pre-fabricated cabins, which the school used for the next four years until its permanent move to the Reñaca location in 1969. Later on, Sister Rosenthal contracted the Hong Kong flu. As a result of the high fever, or of the medication used to treat it, the nerve endings in both ears were severely damaged, rendering her partially deaf in both ears. Sister Rosenthal learned to communicate very successfully by reading lips.

Upon returning to the U.S. after 20 years in Chile, Sister Rosenthal earned her doctorate in historical theology from St. Louis University. In 1986, she made the move to Miami, where she chose to continue her journey at St. Thomas University. During her first year there, she established the Center for Spirituality, the training Program for Spiritual Directors, and the Post-Masters Certificate Program in Spirituality. Later, she also served as Chair of the Department of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. Additionally, Sister Rosenthal created the International Online Certificate Program in Spirituality Studies through which she works with students all over the world.

Although Sister Rosenthal retired from St. Thomas University in 2010, her commitment to education and prayer is manifest through her continued successes in establishing platforms for people to discuss their spirituality.  She reflects, “every where I go there is an opportunity to give joy and reveal God's love - at the gym, at water exercise, or just by inviting friends for lunch.”  On campus, she manifests God’s love through her regular contributions to a faculty faith-sharing group that she established earlier in her career. Additionally, just two years ago, she founded another spirituality group after attending a retreat. Forming relationships is important to her, because she is “convinced that my vocation within my vocation is to give joy to Jesus and I do that by trying to give joy to others!”

Additionally, her blog, Reflections of an RSCJ has become an avenue for developing new relationships with those whom she cannot meet in person. “So many live alone and appreciate the reaching out to them and so I consider that a real ministry for me now.”  In sharing the Society’s charism with her blog, Sister Rosenthal continues her life-long legacy of uniting people through faith all around the world.