Sister Helen Werner


“Our place is also a place of hospitality. People from all over the world pass through here, just wanting to hear something about what has happened here in the Quiche and what we are doing here. But most of all, we are touched by the people themselves, their faith and hope…after all they have suffered from the violence–they really inspire us.”

hwerner_lgSister Helen Werner is from Fowler, Michigan, and entered Maryknoll on June 7, 1938, with a dream that started ten years before when she was eight and her older sister Dorothy (Sister Celine Marie) joined Maryknoll. This started Sister Helen’s missionary journey.

After graduation from Maryknoll Teachers College, Sister Helen was assigned to Panama in 1944 to teach school to the children of Jamaican immigrants for ten years in Panama City. She became very aware of the poverty and dehumanizing conditions of the inner city, a consciousness that never left her.

In 1954. Sister Helen applied to enter the Maryknoll cloister. For over thirty years, she was part of the Maryknoll cloister in New York, offering prayers and other support for the missionary activities of her brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Responding to a request from the Maryknoll Sisters in Guatemala, the Contemplative Community decided to go to El Quiche, an area badly affected by the violence that swept Guatemala in the 1980’s. Sister Helen was one of the three Sisters assigned to the small village of Lemoa.

The Maryknoll Sisters arrived in Guatemala on January 6, 1986, and had the opportunity to visit the Sisters and their ministries before going to Cochabamba, Bolivia, for language study. Their foundation in Lemoa was on August 15, 1986, when the Sisters of the Region came to join the people and the bishop to celebrate with them

Writing of her experiences at the end of her first year there, Sister Helen said, “The period I am in now has been the most satisfying time for me. It has brought me in touch with the simple faith and trust of the poor. What they suffer and what they share becomes a part of my prayer and enables me to grow in solidarity with them.”

Now, more than twenty years later, Sister Helen is still accompanying the people of El Quiche in their celebrations, in family deaths and anniversaries, in weddings, and in their prayers.

In Lemoa, the Maryknoll Sisters offer what hospitality they can. Sister Helen does outreach to sponsors for some students in the poor families the Maryknoll Sisters know. The students are eager to continue their education after primary school but have no means to do so.

Presently, Sister Helen helps fifteen students go to school. Through this, a beautiful relationship has developed, not only with the students but also with their families.