Sister Helene Lentz, CSJ, a former Via Christi Health administrator and board member and former president of one of its founding congregations, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita, died Dec. 22 after a brief battle with cancer.
“I was blessed to know Sister Helene for more than 20 years and work and interact on a number of projects and boards at the hospital and in the community,” wrote Dr. Jerry Brungardt, medical director for Hynes Memorial Hospice, in a note of condolence to the Sisters. “I was always struck by her gaze of love and tenderness…her quiet eyes said to me ‘you are loved’ by Someone much greater…”
“During her last days her eyes continued to sparkle and shine, to glisten with a deep love and quiet confidence that I was then able to carry to other patients and families,” he said. “In a very real way she ministered to the dying and their families from her own deathbed.”
Born Karen May Lentz in Wichita on July 30, 1947, she took Sister Helene as her religious name when she entered the congregation on Aug. 5, 1963.
Sister Helene received her bachelor’s degree from Sacred Heart College (now Newman University) and her master’s degree from Mundelein College in Chicago. She taught in schools in Paso Robles, Calif., and Coffeyville and Pittsburg, Kan., until 1975, when she was called to serve as her congregation’s director of Initial Formation.
She began her career in healthcare in 1990, serving as vice president of Mission Development at the then-St. Joseph Medical Center and playing an instrumental role in the 1995 merger of the CSJ Health System and St. Francis Ministry Corporation to form what is now Via Christi Health.
In 2000, Sister Helene was elected president of her congregation and resigned her leadership role at Via Christi, although she continued to play a key role as a member of the health system’s board of directors. She served as president of her congregation until 2007 when the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita joined with six other congregations to form the Congregation of St. Joseph.
Since that time, she has served as director of the Congregation of St. Joseph’s Magnificat Center, founding the former Spiritual Strengths Cancer Care Program.
Through Via Christi Health, we have tremendous resources available to us here in the community for healing the body,” Sister Helene said prior to the program’s launch in August. “But cancer challenges the spirit as well as the body. So it’s a natural extension of our mission to open our home, which has been a place of prayer for more than a century, to help meet the spiritual needs of patients, families and caregivers whose lives have been touched by cancer.”
Under Sister Helene’s leadership, her congregation founded the St. Joseph Adoption Ministry in Kansas City, Kan., and Dear Neighbor Ministries in Wichita, which includes an outreach to the Hilltop neighborhood, and Step Stone, a residential program for battered women and children.
Sister Helene also played a crucial role in establishing Via Christi’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner/Sexual Assault Response Team, founded to provide compassionate medical treatment to victims of sexual assault and abuse, and was integral in the creation of the Lord’s Diner, a ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, and Sheridan Village, a senior housing complex situated on the southern edge of the Mount St. Mary campus.
“Sister Helene’s vision of Jesus’ prayer that all may be one was what led her to help champion the creation of what today is Via Christi Health,” said Sister Anne Dolores LaPlante, CSJ, vice president of Mission and Pastoral Care for Via Christi Hospitals in Wichita.
“She had a way of bringing people together, whether that was as a health system, as our religious congregation or simply people in need of spiritual healing. While other people would talk, she would say, ‘Enough talk, let’s see some action.’ She made things happen.”