Helen Kelley, IHM (Sister William) left this life marching in to join all saints on the eve of All Saints day, October 31. She was 94 and died peacefully at the IHM Residence in Los Angeles, where she had lived in community after her longtime service in academia and in the public sector. She was born to William and Frances Kelley in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and had two siblings, Donald and Mary Jean, who predeceased her.

As President of Immaculate Heart College from 1963-1977, after having served as Graduate Dean since 1960, she presided over an academic community that was known, not only for its creative programs in art, music, and theater, but also for engagement by faculty and students in domestic and global issues – especially the Vietnam war. Posters, assemblies, and visiting dignitaries all supported the anti-war sentiment that permeated the campus. Holding to the highest academic standards, Dr. Kelley was a model of truth-telling, disciplined thought, and insightful analysis. She encouraged Corita-created celebrations on Mary’s day and urged the college community to “Choose life” despite the climate of fear, racism, and national unrest. Her tenure at the college spanned the years that the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart transitioned to the Immaculate Heart Community.

Helen Kelley was a leader in the Immaculate Heart Community, having served as President from 1993-1996. She had entered the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in 1945, and received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of St. Louis in 1958, then joined the faculty of Immaculate Heart College. In the late sixties, Helen participated in Community deliberations in response to Vatican Council II, which urged religious communities to adapt to the modern world. She was a leader in opting for change in the face of Archdiocesan opposition to the Community’s stance on independent decision-making that involved significant communal changes. With the leadership of Anita Caspary, IHM, she was one of the major writers who framed the document that would guide the life and spirit of the new ecumenical Immaculate Heart Community, established in 1970. Helen’s writing to this day remains a testimony to her deep spirituality, her brilliant intellect, and her fidelity to truth and self-determination.

Twenty-three years ago, as IHM President, Helen was instrumental in the formation of an IHM collaboration with Alexandria House, a transitional residence in Los Angeles for homeless women and women with children, founded by Judy Vaughan, CSJ. 

Helen Kelley lived a long productive life, known for her wit and wisdom and for her speeches, pithy and profound. Following her academic career, she was the Deputy Associate Director for Older Americans Volunteer Programs of the federal ACTION program, 1977-1981 during the Carter administration. She was Education Director of People for the American Way from 1982-1985, followed by three years as a consultant to several foundations. In 1988 she became the Executive Director at Josephson Institute for Ethics in the Professions. In intervening years, she was writing the history of the IHMs. She remains a towering presence in the annals of the IHM Community. 

Survivors are nieces, Margo Morrison and Molly Hawkins and four grandnephews and two grandnieces.

It is with joy and gratitude that the Immaculate Heart Community celebrates the life and times of beloved Helen Kelley, IHM. The memorial Mass to celebrate her life was held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, November 22 in the Calvary Cemetery chapel, 4201 Whittier Blvd, Los Angeles 90023. A reception followed the burial.

Donations to honor the life of Helen Kelley, IHM may be made to the Immaculate Heart Community Residence, 435 S. Kenmore Ave., #202, Los Angeles, CA 90020.