- About Us
- Our Mission
- Our Vision
- Our Ministries
- Meet Our Sisters
- Tidings Newsletter
- The Bell Banner
- Become a Sister
- Get Involved
- Contact Us
Meet Our Sisters
Sr. Helen Kyllingstad
Sister Helen was born in Valley City, ND. Her family was of the Baptist faith; therefore Sister Helen did not attend Catholic school, nor did she have a nun as a school or religion teacher. Nevertheless, her intelligent, probing mind formed questions, and seeking answers eventually led to her decision to convert to the Catholic faith as an adult.
Throughout her life, Sister Helen has chosen personal paths few women travel. She has served as a nurse, a hospital administrator for numerous healthcare facilities, and has devoted her life to her calling as a Benedictine Sister. “Nursing and my devotion to God have the same elements, whether it’s the passion, caring or desire,” says Sister Helen as she recalls her many years of service. As a Benedictine Sister of Annunciation Monastery, Sister Helen joins a rich tradition of health care providers, beginning with the determined women who, in 1885, established the first hospital in Dakota Territory, now St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck, ND.
After graduating from nursing school in St. Paul, MN, Sister Helen spent a year as a psychiatric nurse before being persuaded to return to her home state of North Dakota as public health nurse. As a young nurse, Sister Helen was adventurous and open to challenge. She started a hospital and delivered countless babies under limiting conditions. She learned the skill of administering anesthesia to patients when it was very new to health care. She served as a hospital administrator, an uncommon position for women in those days. Her faith in God led her to trust in her abilities, and she was successful and well-respected for her work. Even after her retirement, with nursing still at the core of her being, she directed the sisters’ health center for several years.
Now, in her retirement years, Sister Helen has the leisure to share the answers to a witty crossword puzzle, to take time to ponder the wonders of nature, to take pleasure in the simple but very complex things God has created for our enjoyment. Every day that weather permits, Sister Helen is out exploring the monastery grounds, riding on her electric cart. “I never really thought about grass until I was over 80 years old,” explains Sister Helen. “There are hundreds of varieties of grass. I watch for different ones and cut specimens for identification.” Her awe and curiosity are apparent as she proclaims,“So far I’ve identified 36 kinds of varieties of grass right here on our campus, but there are hundreds in the world.” With a prayerful spirit, Sister Helen converses with God about the seasons and the weather, and the grasses that surround the monastery. With gratitude, she praises God for the earth’s gifts and glory. Occasionally, she even asks God why certain things happen and is led to be patient as she waits for the answers.
One would think Sister Helen would know each blade of grass, each stone, each living thing by heart; however, each season continues to bring new mysteries. Even the little songbirds seem to know Sister Helen is someone they can trust as they light on her bedroom window and they exchange whistles. Her wit and sense of humor bring lightness to an ordinary day. A funny little stuffed lamb she calls Aristotle is positioned on her desk, sometimes holding a little book or piece of grass she has brought from outdoors. Other beautifully arranged grass bouquets can be found throughout the monastery, Sister Helen’s works of art. Her chuckle and sparkling eyes brighten the entrance of the monastery as she greets guests and answers the phone while working “switchboard.”
Today, Sister Helen delights sisters and guests alike with greeting cards she makes from donated wallpaper books. The designs, textures and patterns are cut, stitched and glued into one-of-a-kind creations which are sold in the monastery gift shop and given as gifts.
These are not the kind of the card one throws away; they are keepsakes to be treasured and preserved in scrapbooks.
Throughout her life, Sister Helen’s devotion to nursing, her faith, and her passion for the wonders of nature have clearly influenced and had an impact on many people. Her courageous and creative spirit, along with her persistence and ingenuity, have inspired and encouraged many to attempt what might have otherwise seemed impossible. “It’s a good life,” she says, “one that I wouldn’t change.” Sister Helen urges all women to follow their dreams. “If you have a dream, just try it. Take the risk.”