By Barb Arland-Fye
If Helen Angerer gets her way in heaven, and God knows she’s persistent, the list of canonized saints will grow exponentially. Anyone who ever performed an act of kindness for Helen was worthy of sainthood, in her opinion. In my humble opinion, Helen reaped what she sowed.
This 83-year-old cheerleader for the Catholic faith died June 5 “in the wonderful care of the Carmelite Sisters and the staff of the Kahl Home, Davenport,” her obituary said.
Helen was also an ambassador for The Catholic Messenger — long before our staff gave her that title last year. In the nine years I’ve been editing our diocesan newspaper, Helen was a frequent caller who shared her opinions about a particular week’s issue. “I just can’t wait to get The Catholic Messenger on Thursdays,” she’d tell me. “I read it cover to cover.”
She not only read the paper, she persuaded others to do the same. At the end of Helen’s funeral Mass on June 10 at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Davenport, Marsha Menke recalled with humor her dear friend’s phone calls rattling off stories that Marsha should be sure to read in that week’s Catholic Messenger. Also sharing reflections about Helen was Msgr. Robert Schmidt, a former pastor of St. Anthony’s who presided at the funeral Mass. Father Apo Mpanda, the current pastor, concelebrated.
Msgr. Schmidt recalled, with amusement, the frequent calls he received from Helen, “just to chat.” In their conversations of the past six months she couldn’t say enough about the loving care she received from the Sisters and other staff at the Kahl Home.
She’d been reluctant to leave her own home because she took pride in her independence. But ill health trumped willpower. She kept the faith and a positive attitude. Even though she could no longer drive a car, her wheelchair became her “wheels,” Marsha said, and Helen made the rounds visiting other Kahl Home residents.
Being able to attend Mass each day in the Kahl Home, with Father Joe Rogers presiding, was a godsend for Helen.
Marsha, one of the Top 100 Great Iowa Nurses, illustrated Helen’s faith by sharing a couple of medical stories.
Prior to one of her surgeries, Helen was on a hospital bed with a crucifix pressed against her chest. Marsha was in the holding room with Helen when her anesthesiologist said, “That crucifix must be very special to you.” Helen responded, “I know I can’t take it into the operating room …”
The anesthesiologist said, “Let me see what I can do.” He took the crucifix and returned a short time later with the crucifix taped to a white towel, which was placed on her chest. Overjoyed, Helen told the anesthesiologist, “I’m going to call the pope when I get out of surgery and ask him to have you canonized!”
The anesthesiologist later told Marsha, “I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m Jewish!”
Following Helen’s final hospitalization, three doctors of different faiths met with her separately and told her she was dying. All three doctors asked if they could pray with Helen. And she obliged. “That was awe-inspiring to me,” said Marsha.
For Christmas Mass, one of the Sisters asked Helen if she would like to carry the statue of baby Jesus in her lap and place it in the crèche in the chapel. Helen was deeply honored, and cherished that experience.
It may not have been her desire to leave her home, but once she did, she made the best of it. And those final months were probably among the best of her life, Marsha believes.
Mickey Oliger, another friend of Helen’s — and who wasn’t a friend? — said Helen was “loved by the nuns and brought smiles to the workmen and residents alike.”
Mickey imagines what a wonderful reunion Helen must be having with her mother in heaven, the mother who died shortly after giving birth to Helen on Sept. 11, 1927.
Perhaps that had something to do with Helen’s own ministry to the dying, and the peacefulness with which she approached her own death. Now she’s probably negotiating with God about some canonizations.