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Retiring assistant superintendent has spread love of math

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Sister Helen Lucille Habig
Sister Helen Lucille Habig

By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The Catholic Telegraph 

“Just give me the sunshine and some water and I’ll be praying, contemplating and relaxing.”

That’s what Sister of Mercy Helen Lucille Habig is looking forward to, among other things, when she retires from her position as director of Eastern Region Schools for the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office in June. Her ministry in Catholic education has spanned nearly 60 years.

“God has given me talent in mathematics and education and I hope I have used that accordingly, witnessing as Sister of Mercy in our Catholic schools,” she said

Her colleagues are quick to affirm that she has touched many lives.

“Sister Helen Lucille has been an institution in the Catholic Schools Office,” said Jim Rigg, director of Educational Services and archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. “She is universally respected and loved for her wisdom, deep faith, and relentless commitment to the ministry of Catholic education. She is also known for her tremendous sense of humor and biting wit. She will be greatly missed!”

Sister Helen Lucille’s own Catholic school experience began on Cincinnati’s West Side, where she attended Our Lady of Lourdes (OLL) for grade school and Mother of Mercy High School. One of six girls, she said she knew from the seventh grade on that she would enter religious life. She joined the Sisters of Mercy in 1951, and professed her final vows in 1957. She holds bachelor’s degrees in math and science from Edgecliff College, a master’s degree in math from Xavier University, and did post graduate work at Marquette University, the Illinois Institute of Technology and Michigan State University.

Sister Helen Lucille began her teaching ministry at OLL, and went on to serve in secondary education at McAuley, Mother of Mercy and Picqua Catholic. After a stint at McAuley High School in Cleveland, she returned to Cincinnati to serve as a teacher and assistant principal at Mother of Mercy. Her last teaching assignment took her to her home turf at Our Lady of Lourdes, where she also became actively involved in working with her fellow educators on advanced placement mathematics for students. During the 1970-71 school year, she was asked to consider a position in the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office. “I prayed about it, but was reluctant to leave. I knew what I was accomplishing there (OLL),” she said.

More prayer followed, and by the end of the academic year, Sister Helen Lucille had decided to make the change in ministry, realizing that her in new role she could influence teaching styles and how math was taught in classrooms throughout the archdiocese. Over a 15 year period, Sister Helen Lucille estimates she conducted some 1,000 workshops for elementary school teachers in the archdiocese, in addition to public school districts in Ohio, Kentucky and South Carolina, and gave presentations at both state and national educators’ conventions. As an adjunct instructor in math education at Xavier, a job she found to be particularly rewarding, she enjoyed interacting with and sharing her knowledge with future teachers.

Her ministry in the Catholic Schools Office also consisted of work on Title II funding and teacher professional development to include the purchase of a conversion van with a customized interior equipped with educational resources that traveled throughout the archdiocese.

When the Ohio Catholic School Accrediting Association was formed in 1994, Sister Helen Lucille was assigned as a diocesan advisor for area grade schools and high schools working through the accreditation process. “Working with the teachers and principals was very rewarding,” she recalled. “I learned a lot more about what goes on in our Catholic schools and I was happy to see what they were doing in terms of maintaining Catholic identity.”

As an assistant superintendent, Sister Helen Lucille has been working with 38 schools on the Eastern side of Cincinnati, “taking care of their needs and helping them address issues and challenges,” she explained. Those issues and challenges are different now than in her classroom days, Sister Helen Lucille noted. “There use to be more issues with curriculum and instruction. Now the issues the principals are facing are much more difficult…centered around social media, bullying and even violence.”

She is quick to give credit to her fellow Catholic schools educators who face daily challenges with dedication and faith and continue to embrace the joy and meaning of their ministry.

“I’ve loved going into our classrooms and observing. Our teachers are always so gracious,” she said. “And, when I’ve been working with them and their eyes open up and they see a concept they didn’t recognize in the past, that’s so rewarding.”

Sister Helen Lucille acknowledged that teaching math is in itself a challenge, especially keeping the students’ interest and enthusiasm. Her advice for teachers? “Be happy and upbeat about sharing your knowledge, about mathematics, and the kids will embrace it accordingly.”

While some well-earned time off for prayer, contemplation and relaxation is first on her agenda when she retires, Sister Helen Lucille is eager to continue to share her love for math with others and hopes to volunteer with pre-school aged children or kindergartners to develop their math schools before they start grade school.


This article originally appeared in the April 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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