|Sister Helen Marie Glaser, O.P., who died Nov. 26, was remembered as an enthusiastic supporter of St. Cecilia Academy students and alumni. When Laura Black Crawford, St. Cecilia Class of 1979, rode her bike 1,600 miles from Arizona to her high school reunion in Nashville in 2014, Sister Helen Marie, St. Cecilia Class of 1976, was there to greet her for the home stretch of the ride. Tennessee Register file photo by Rick Musacchio
Sister Helen Marie Glaser, O.P., who died of a heart attack Nov. 26 at age 58, is being remembered by her fellow Dominican Sisters, former students and friends as someone who loved and lived her faith, and loved others unconditionally.
Many of her former students at St. Cecilia Academy recall her as a rare authority figure who connected with them on a deeply personal level. In the days following her death, many St. Cecilia alumnae shared memories of her: how she loved to laugh and share snacks with her students, how down to earth and generous she was.
“As teenagers, we culturally accepted her,” said Nichole Huseby, a member of the St. Cecilia Class of 1991, who remembers making mixtapes for Sister Helen Marie and having her join in group photos at school dances.
When the two first met, Huseby was a student in Sister Helen Marie’s religion class, and was struggling to stay awake one day. “She called me up after class and asked me what was going on, why was I so tired?” Huseby told her that Cross Country practices were draining her energy, and she was struggling to keep up. “Instead of punishing me, she decided to inspire me,” Huseby said, recalling that at the next Cross Country meet, on a windswept day, “there was Sister Helen Marie at the starting line,” her white habit and black cape blowing in the wind, a smile on her face.
Whether it was at Cross Country meets, working together on the school newspaper or on student council, “she was my cheerleader,” Huseby said of Sister Helen Marie. “She set the bar high, and you wanted to earn her respect.”
Their lifelong friendship was cemented by a tragedy. When Huseby was a junior at St. Cecilia, she was in a serious car accident, and one of her friends in the car died. As Huseby coped with the loss of her friend and re-adjusting to life at St. Cecilia after the wreck, Sister Helen Marie was her rock. “She saved my life, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically,” Huseby said. “She transformed that trauma by using her faith to heal and restore me. … She was a touchstone and a confidant.”
Every year on the anniversary of the car wreck, “for 28 years without fail,” Huseby said, Sister Helen Marie called her to let her know she `loved her and was praying for her. Huseby, who now has a daughter at St. Cecilia, said she would always be indebted to Sister Helen Marie for restoring her faith as a teenager. She embodied “the genuineness of unconditional love that is taught but not often demonstrated,” she said of her friend. “She inspires me to lean on my faith more.”
Sister Helen Marie served at Dominican-run schools in several cities in Tennessee and in Alabama, Colorado and Maryland, but “she was a St. Cecilia girl through and through,” said Sister Mary Angela, O.P., a fellow Dominican Sister and a close friend for many years.
Sister Helen Marie graduated from St. Cecilia in 1976, and received the school’s highest honor of St. Cecilia Girl that year. Even after she left the Dominican Campus, to study at Vanderbilt University and teach in other schools, she remained a staunch supporter of all things SCA. As a Dominican Sister she served as a teacher and vice-principal at St. Cecilia and also as executive director of the Dominican Campus.
As much as she loved teaching religion and history to her students, most of all, she “helped them find God in the ordinary,” Sister Mary Angela said. “She was so interested in all types of kids,” she added. “I’m sure they knew she loved them.”
Cortney Purser Rockhill met Sister Helen Marie when she joined the St. Cecilia alumni board three years ago, and felt a quick personal connection with her. “She was so kind, and always made you feel like the most special person in the room.”
The two met and e-mailed frequently outside of board meetings, and Sister Helen Marie was a confidant to Rockhill as she went through the process of transferring her daughter to Overbrook School. “She really coached me through it, she was so invested in what was best for our family.”
Rockhill, a member of the St. Cecilia Class of 1999, noted how Sister Helen Marie was always fully present when they were talking, never rushing off to the next thing. “She was one of those Sisters who had a really full plate, but she was always able to balance it.”
One of the last times Rockhill saw Sister Helen Marie was at her son JR’s baptism last summer. She gave JR a rosary and prayer book, which Rockhill said she would hold “near and dear to me for a long, long time.”
Sister Mary Angela recalled Sister Helen Marie’s deep devotion to both the rosary and the Stations of the Cross, and said that she prayed them daily. During the final moments of her life, Sister Mary Angela said, Sister Helen Marie asked for her crucifix and her rosary. “She knew at the core of her being that she belonged to Christ. She had the most important things to accompany her on the final journey to meet Him.”
Sister Helen Marie was a native of Nashville, and was the daughter of Helen Hunley Glaser Yates and the late Jerome Glaser of Nashville. She is preceded in death by grandparents Albert and Vivian Hunley and Edward and Mary Strobel Glaser.
After graduating from St. Henry School and St. Cecilia Academy in Nashville, she went on to receive her bachelor of arts degree from Vanderbilt University in 1980. Upon her graduation she taught school in Newport News, Virginia, and Overbrook School in Nashville.
Before she joined the Dominican Sisters, she worked summers at Camp Marymount as a counselor and served as head of Senior Camp. “She was one of our beloved alumni and a true Marymount Girl,” said Marymount Director Tommy Hagey.
In 1983 she entered the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. After her profession of vows in 1985, Sister Helen Marie served as both teacher and administrator in schools staffed by the Dominican Sisters, including those in Nashville, Memphis, McEwen and Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Denver Colorado, and Catonsville, Maryland. During this time she also received her master’s degrees in education and theology. For the past year-and-a-half she taught at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, Maryland. She had previously served as principal there from 1994-1999.
Sister Helen Marie is survived by her mother, Mrs. Helen Glaser Yates (Douglas); three sisters: Mrs. Leigh Glaser Wolfson (Ashton) of San Francisco, California; Ms. Christian Glaser and Ms. Edith Glaser of Nashville; niece, Alexandra Wolfson of San Francisco; step-sisters, Mrs. Julie Yates Taylor (Robert) of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the late Lucinda Yates Husband; step-niece Julie Trabue Taylor and nephew Robert Campbell Taylor III of Chattanooga.
The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Thursday, Dec. 1, at the Dominican Motherhouse Convent Chapel. Burial followed at the convent cemetery.
|The family of Sister Helen Marie Glaser, O.P., and her Sisters in the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, pray at her gravesite in the convent cemetery. Father John Sims Baker was the celebrant and homilist for the Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Helen Marie, which was celebrated in the chapel of the Dominicans’ Motherhouse in Nashville on Thursday, Dec. 1. Photo by Rick Musacchio