Franciscan Spirit /Winter 2019
She stops in each room on her rounds, engaging the patients and their family members in prayer and conversation, spreading positive energy and joy to those who are on their way home to God.
Sister Ann Helene Koenig is a “ray of sunshine” to the staff and patients of the palliative and memory care units of the skilled nursing facilities where through her pastoral care, she shows people that they are not alone, that God is with them.
Barb Johnson directs the Journeys program for The McGuire Group which owns the three facilities where Sister Ann Helene ministers.
“How do you sum up a whirlwind? Sister Ann Helene is filled with energy. No matter what kind of day you are having, she makes it better,” Johnson says. “She prays with the patients, she is their friend, she is their confidant. She ministers to the family members as well and they appreciate it.” Even the staff in the three buildings look to Sister Ann Helene for spiritual support. “They stop her in the hallways, and they will ask her to pray for them or for a family member. Over five years, she’s gotten to know everyone,” Johnson notes.
Sister Ann Helene spent most of her early years as a Sister of St. Francis ministering in education, teaching at several Catholic schools in the Buffalo area, finishing up that career as a principal at St. Agnes school. She was serving as a pastoral associate in two Buffalo-area parishes when Johnson contacted her in 2014.
“I had been trying to find a pastoral minister so that I could get the Journeys program going and I wasn’t having much success,” Johnson says. “Sister Ann Helene had a nephew who was working here at Harris Hill and he suggested that I contact his aunt.”
Johnson recalls that Sister wasn’t interested in the position at first, but finally agreed to try it for two weeks. Five years later, she is still on the job, rotating among McGuire Group’s three facilities every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:00 a.m. until noon.
“She is so positive,” Johnson says. “She shares her life with everyone.” Sister Ann Helene has brought in her dogs to visit (the newest puppy showed up on Harris Hill’s FaceBook page), and she is often accompanied by the sisters with whom she lives at St. Agnes convent. She also brought in some of the prayer shawls knitted by her fellow sisters at St. Mary of the Angels region house which Johnson calls “beautiful things that the families take home with them.”
In addition to her pastoral ministry, Sister Ann Helene arranges the memorial service that the facility holds every six months. Johnson says family members are always eager to see Sister.
“She makes a difference in so many ways, in ways that are not always tangible,” Johnson says. “Everyone is so appreciative of what she and all the sisters do.”