July 26, 2023 at 12:15 a.m.

Sister Helen Palermo, CSJ, 97



Sister Helen Palermo (Sister Anna Zita) died on July 11 at the age of 97 in the 77th year of her religious life. Sister Helen was born on May 20, 1926, in Syracuse, the daughter of Angelo and Julia Palermo. Sister Helen entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on Sept. 15, 1946. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education and reading from The College of Saint Rose. She spent 54 fruitful years as an accomplished instructor of young and adult learners.

Sister Helen elicited the best from her students, meeting each one’s particular needs with insight, empathy and an ability to prod and encourage. She was creative in her approach with an uncanny understanding of what would release the students’ ultimate potential. After 39 years on the grade-school level, Sister Helen brought her talents to the BOCES Learning Center in Syracuse. In her unassuming way, Sister Helen approached each adult with the question: “What do you wish to accomplish and how can I assist you to do this?” The results were impressive. For the next 17 years Sister Helen instructed adults in word processing (learning it herself first), mechanics (she became proficient in operating the machines) mathematics and literacy. Her students were awarded GEDs, higher pay and greater self-esteem. She believed that each student could learn but not necessarily in the same way. In this sense, Sister Helen was a pioneer in the educational field.

Sister Helen had a deep and abiding love of family. She served as caregiver for her ailing mother, Julia, and then her sister, Margaret, for 12 years. She was renowned as a chef. She had an innate curiosity and enjoyed traveling to foreign countries. As one of 10 children, Sister Helen developed such social skills as peacemaker, referee and conversationalist, demonstrating humor and wit. Finally, Sister Helen was a woman of prayer which infused everything she did and was.

Sister Helen is survived by her brother, Arthur, her sister, Rose, and several nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her brothers, Harry, Albert, Alfred, and sisters, Frances, Fanny, Margaret and Virginia. Her funeral Mass was held on July 19 at St. Joseph’s Provincial House.

Contributions in Sister Helen’s memory may be made to the Office of Mission Advancement, St. Joseph’s Provincial House, 385 Watervliet-Shaker Road, Latham, N.Y., 12110.


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