Helen M. Feeney

Helen M. Feeney
"Any gift we have is God-given."
- Sr. Helen Margaret Feeney

Induction Category:
Arts & Humanities

Born: 1919

Died: 2004

Inducted: 1995

Town: Hartford

The daughter of William and Helen Steblar Feeney, Mary Louise Feeney was born in Stamford, Conn., and discovered her religious vocation while a student at Sacred Heart Academy. Inspired by one of her teachers who, in her words, “radiated Christ” and by the experience of portraying Saint Bernadette in a school play, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent in 1937 and took her vows in 1939, officially becoming Sister Helen Margaret. She earned her B.A. from the Diocesan Sisters College and her M. Ed. in Reading from Boston College and also held a Sixth Year Certificate in Professional Education and Administration from the University of Connecticut.

She taught elementary, junior high, and high school students in the Hartford, Bridgeport, and Norwich Archdioceses and also served in administrative and coordination roles for both Waterbury and Hartford schools. In 1978, she became the first female assistant superintendent for the Hartford archdiocese schools. In 1986, Archbishop John F. Whealon appointed Sister Helen Margaret to be the first woman Chancellor of the Archdiocese, the highest position in the Roman Catholic Church open to women. Though the Second Vatican Council had opened the position to women twenty years before, Sister Helen Margaret was only the fifth woman in the nation to serve as Chancellor of a U.S. archdiocese.

In her eight years as Chancellor she became known as a decisive and fair supporter of both parishioners and priests. She spearheaded a complete modernization of the chancery building and offices, overseeing the introduction of computers and the construction of a new entrance designed to make visitors feel welcome. Though her primary mission was to create a true “community of faith,” Sister Helen Margaret understood the importance of attending to salaries, work schedules, and vacations so that individuals might feel appreciated and rewarded. She also established the Archdiocese’s first archives.

In addition to her work in the Archdiocese and its schools, Sister Helen Margaret also served on numerous Boards of Trustees including those of the St. Agnes Home, St. Francis Hospital, Catholic Charities, and Catholic Family Services. She also served on the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Development Council and was director of both the Archdiocesan Mission Co-Op and the Office for Religious. In 1993, Pope John Paul II awarded her the highest honor for service to the Church, the Holy Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice and the following year she received the Distinguished Catholic Woman Award. Sister Helen Margaret left the Chancellor’s position in 1994 and was appointed as the Archbishop’s delegate for special needs, a position which allowed her to continue to build collaborative relationships throughout the archdiocese.

Sister Helen Margaret died in November 2004 in West Hartford.

During This Time
1946 - 1965: Women’s Activism in Conservative Times