An Extraordinary Life: Sister Helen Scullion

Brentford School girl looks back on impact made by a nun who recently passed away

Brentford School for girls pupils on a visit to Sister Helen

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An extraordinary person is one who has lived a remarkable life. Sister Helen Scullion (1929-2018) was indeed an extraordinary person. Born in Lanarkshire on 7 January 1929, she was destined to live an impactful life worthy of praise. Dedicating her life to God, she joined the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, a missionary society founded in 1869 that operates in Africa.

A dozen of students from Brentford School for girls of which I am one had the privilege to pay her six visits over the winter term to learn about her incredible life. Through her entertaining and inspiring stories which she so openly shared with all of us, it was apparent to us that Sister Helen served wholeheartedly in her various nominations.

After joining the congregation as a novice in 1956 and embarking on an international year to Algeria at the age of 27, Sister Helen undertook on one of her greatest missions to Ghana where she worked as a secretary in a Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa hospital, the Navrongo War Memorial Hospital in Navrongo in Northern Ghana. In 1962, Sr. Helen came back for a time of rest, health care and studies and returned to Ghana shortly again in 1964. This time she was in charge of a community in Navrongo. She was the Bishop's secretary and did the accounts and various other tasks such as being in charge of the Parish book store and teaching catechism. It is evident through her plethora of postings that Sister Helen was incredibly talented.

For about a year, Sr. Helen was in Burkina Faso where she taught English. In the early 1960's, the Government of Ghana, under the leadership of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah felt the need for a Health Centre to be opened in Nandom due to the lack of them available. The Bishop of WA, Rt. Rev. Peter Porekuu Dery was consulted on the issue since the Church was already operating a maternity home in Nandom which Sister Helen assisted with. The government wanted the opinion of the church in the situating of the Health Centre. The church had identified a site by the White Sisters convent for the building of the proposed Health Centre/Hospital.

Sister Helen during her time in Africa

After that, she worked in administration again in another hospital called St Theresa’s hospital in Nandom in Ghana. It started off as a clinic set up by Sr. Annette Mercure, helped by the Sisters of Mary Immaculate (SMI), their sister congregation in Ghana. Sr. Annette Mercure soon saw the need to add a maternity unit, and quickly converted some old abandoned classrooms into an improvised maternity unit. Hundreds of mothers delivered safely. The Ministry of Health became aware that this maternity unit was saving the lives of many mothers and babies and quickly gave it official recognition in 1954. A new government hospital was built in 1961, and four sisters took over the running of this hospital and lived there as a community, one of which was Sr. Helen. There was only around 10 staff in the hospital. African nurses were trained here by members of the community. Serving in the poorest part of a foreign country albeit was immensely fulfilling, did come with a variety of challenges. In many instances, Sister Helen who suffered from Malaria herself aided many locals who suffered from the disease back to health. Moreover, she preserved with the lack of staff in these hospitals and even had to endure a death of a close friend through this.
In 1974, Sr. Helen returned to Europe and after that she was given the task of a Treasurer. She only returned briefly to WA-also located in Northern Ghana at the special request of the local bishop who needed someone to do some work as his Secretariat. Then, she came back to the UK.

Since then, St. Theresa’s hospital in Nandom has established a health link partner with the Northampton General Hospital in the UK. Today, the Sisters of Mary Immaculate are still administering the hospital. The Nandom Hospital has developed even more and today it runs a Nursing Training College that is training nurses for the country. Furthermore, the hospital celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2017.

It is apparent that the impact that Sister Helen has left on the communities she served in her life will be everlasting. It is because of extraordinary people like her that many get to have a chance at a better life. As a result, we thought that the least we could do as students was to showcase to our school the extraordinary life that she lived. We were privileged enough to have three dear friends of Sr. Helen: Scottish Former Superior General, Marie McDonald, Sister Margaret Kennedy and Sister Marion Carabott join us for our presentation on Tuesday, the 30th of January. The famous treasured words of Cardinal Lavigerie who endorsed the foundation of the Missionaries of Africa perfectly encapsulates the sacrifices that Sister Helen made: ‘I have made myself all to all, because I have said to the God of all, “I am all yours”.’

Our dear Sr.Helen passed away on Wednesday the 31st of January, 2018, at the senescent but venerable age of 89 years. Her solemn funeral service took place on Friday, the 23rd of February at the Maryville Care Home in Brentford and then later at the Powder Mill Lane Cemetery in Whitton. Sister Helen’s life will forever be cherished and commemorated by everyone around her.

Sophia Louis
(Brenford School for Girls)


March 16, 2018

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