Sister Helen Graham was born May 22nd, 1937 in Brooklyn, NY an only child to Dorothy (Poll) Graham and Walter Graham.
Sister Helen graduated from Newton High School, Elmhurst, NY 1954. She entered Maryknoll in Ossining, NY from Brooklyn, NY, September 2nd, 1956. She pronounced First Vows June 24th 1959 and Final Vows June 24th 1965.
Sister Helen was assigned to the Philippines in 1967. As a theologian who teaches Sacred Scripture in colleges, universities, seminaries and the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies, Sister Helen has prepared her students to proclaim the Good News to the poor. Sister Helen also teaches by her involvement with issues of justice and peace. One Filipino calls her an American Pinay, a Filipina at heart.
While Sister Helen was teaching, she also formed Bible study groups with the barrio people of Pansol. For the past 28 years she has been holding evening Bible study groups for professionals.
Her study of Luke’s gospel in her book, “There Shall Be No Poor Among You”, grew out of reflection within efforts at “being the Church” in the Philippines. Her Master’s thesis, for the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, California on “The Persecution Prediction in the Gospel of Mark” was prompted by the need to respond to Christian communities in our times undergoing persecution and martyrdom in various parts of the world. “I was led to the text of Mark by the “text” of my own experience in mission among people engaged in the struggle of life, truth, justice and human dignity.”
Her work with political detainees (many of whom came from among the poor) during the years of martial law in the Philippines greatly influenced her reading and teaching of Scripture. “This experience is still very much a part of my memory and remains an influence on how I read the Bible.”
Excerpts from Sister Helen’s EDSAI (acronym for Epifanio de los Santos Avenue) letters were published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer during the EDSAI anniversary week. These letters were written to friends during the volatile season that preceded and culminated in February 1986 EDSAI People Power uprising.
In the context of persecution, Sister Helen was happy to co-edit Prison Reflections of Karl Gaspar, a committed lay theologian, church worker and friend who disappeared in 1982, and surfaced two weeks later in a prison camp in Davao City.
In 1972, when Sister Helen graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a Ph.D. in Biblical Theology, Sister Helen called her dissertation the culmination but not the end of a long biblical journey which began with a child’s effort to respond to her “humanistic/agnostic grandfather’s challenge to everything I was learning from the ‘good sisters’ in school…My grandfather launched me on a life-long quest for truth.” This quest was augmented and fostered by the foresight of Sister Jeanne Marie Lyons who enabled her to take workshops at Georgetown and a summer course in Scripture at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.
As an international lecturer Sister Helen has given workshops and seminars in various countries as well as around the Republic of the Philippines.
Sister Helen was granted a full scholarship to attend a three week intensive study of Repentance at the Bat Kol Institute in Jerusalem in 2006. Bat Kol Institute exists to foster Jewish Studies, defined as study of the Word of God (Torah) within its Jewish milieu, using Jewish sources, ancient and modern, with the help of Jewish and Christian scholars. The program was scheduled during the High Holy Days of the Jewish calendar so that participants could attend the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. The material included study of Repentance from various aspects and two sessions on “Jesus and Repentance” were given by Sister Helen.
Her lifelong passion for the study of Scripture is contagious. It underlies her commitment to justice and peace for all people.
In September 2008, Sister Helen Graham’s book, Sing, O Barren One…and other Essays on Biblical Themes, was awarded the Gintong Aklat Award (Golden Book) from the Book Development Association of the Philippines in cooperation with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the National Book Development Board. In October 2008, Sister Helen was given the Jaime Cardinal Sin Catholic Book Award in the category of Theology.
Today, Sister Helen is still actively on mission in the Phillipines.