Sister Helen Marie Bradley died at Chestnut Hill Hospital on March 27, 2020 and will be remembered at a Memorial Mass at the proper time. On Tuesday, April 12, 1937, Helen was born to Francis and Margaret Bradley, and indeed like a true Tuesday’s child, this tenth baby was “full of grace.” At the age of three, Helen’s family moved from The Ascension of Our Lord parish to the Tacony neighborhood of Philadelphia. This news was greeted with much joy since the new home would be much larger. Helen’s father immediately enrolled six of his children in St. Leo’s Parish school, and Helen became one of the first proud graduates of the school’s kindergarten. Nine girls and three boys were raised on Ditman Street and each sibling had a plethora of chores. Helen became the “shopper-in-chief” and was well known by the staff at the local A&P store.
Growing up in the Bradley family, she was rooted in spiritual devotions like the nightly family rosary, Miraculous Medal Devotions, and Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In addition to the religious development, the Bradley clan enjoyed the “fun” of family dinners and the company of the Sisters of Saint Joseph from St. Leo’s School. The sisters would borrow everything from a Halloween costume to a bathing suit and ask one of the children to be a “companion” on public transportation. All these aspects of her development allowed Helen to become an independent and well-formed young woman.
From St. Leo’s Grade School, she moved on to St. Hubert’s High School, where in addition to her strong academic curriculum, Helen excelled in drama and newspaper reporting. As she graduated from high school, this young woman listened to her heart and her simple prayer and decided to follow her sister Rose into religious life. Instead of choosing the Sisters of the Holy Family, Helen, motivated by the example of her family, and more formally by the priests and sisters who served at St. Leo’s and St. Hubert’s, decided to enter the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
After completing her Novitiate, Helen was assigned to Visitation Parish School. Like so many first year teachers, this young instructor completed the entire curriculum before lunch. With an open mind, Helen began to learn the structure of the classroom. After six years in Kensington, she moved to St. Charles in North Philadelphia. When asked about her days there, Helen would inevitably respond, “We had so much fun.”
The suburbs called to Helen next as she traveled to St. Andrew’s in Drexel Hill. After four years at this assignment, she was given a stronger challenge. Helen was asked to teach eighth grade and become the local coordinator at Nativity, BVM in Port Richmond, Philadelphia.
Helen continued her studies and earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Chestnut Hill College and Masters in educational administration from Scranton University. Those studies served her well, preparing her to assume the assignment of principal at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Roxborough, PA. In this capacity, Helen reduced class size and introduced innovative programs to the school.
Returning to the classroom in St. Ambrose School gave this open minded teacher a chance to move into the technology field. One of the first among elementary school teachers to earn certification as an instructor of computer skills, Helen generously give her time and skill to students from K to 8th grade. Her computer lab was one of Philadelphia’s first. Again she found herself having “fun.”
After 14 years on the Boulevard, Helen became the school secretary first at Our Lady of Victory in West Philadelphia then at St. Malachy in North Philadelphia. She brought her upbeat personality to both of these establishments.
As Helen’s health began to diminish, she made the decision to “do good and show kindness to others” at Saint Joseph Villa. In her ten years there, she participated in prayer and activities with a happy persona. Helen soon realized that being a “companion” no longer meant riding a bus but rather listening to and sharing daily life with her fellow “companions” in Flourtown.
Sister Helen Marie Bradley now joins many of her family and community members in the Paradise of greatest kindness. Rest in peace, Sister Helen.