Sister Helen (Letitia) Lavin was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, England in 1923, one of five children. She received her early education in Barnsley and moved to Ireland when she was nine. Because she had an aunt in the Holy Faith Convent in Haddington Road, Dublin, she was able to attend boarding school there until she completed her matriculation in 1941. She returned to England and joined the team of women working in Bletchley Park to decipher the Enigma Code. Sister Helen never revealed any information about this highly secretive work even in later life. Apparently she was an expert at cryptic crossword puzzles!
Helen joined MMM in Ireland in 1949. After profession she trained in general nursing in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, in children’s nursing in Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, and in midwifery in Drogheda. She worked as a staff nurse in Drogheda, where she was involved in the infants’ and toddlers’ wards. She encouraged parents to be involved in the care of the children, which was forward thinking for that time.
Sister Helen’s first mission assignment was in 1962, to Nigeria, where she worked for seven years in Akpa Utong, Ikom and Ndubia. She was there during the Biafran War. She then nursed Mother Mary for a year before a short assignment at the Clinica Mediterranea in Naples. After updating at the Bristol Royal Infirmary she was infirmarian at Kylemore Abbey and helped in the guest department in Drogheda before returning to Nigeria in 1975 for a further seven years. She was matron in Ondo and also served in Ogoja and Ndubia. She returned to Ireland in 1985 and worked in the respiratory physiology unit in Drogheda.
In 1989 Sister Helen went to England and volunteered in a home of the elderly. She also helped in our MMM community in Somerville, MA, USA. In 1990 she back in England, where she was warden in a sheltered accommodation facility for the elderly in London for five years. She later volunteered and was a Eucharistic minister in homes for the elderly. She received a silver medal of merit from the Order of Malta for this work.
Helen retired to the MMM Motherhouse in Drogheda, Ireland in 2000. She helped out wherever there was a need. She transferred to Áras Mhuire in 2008, where she was a gentle, smiling presence and always invited others for a cup of tea. She died peacefully in Áras Mhuire on 17 November 2014, after a long illness.