Sister seeks to know Jesus as a ‘real person’

Dominican Sister Helen Marie Raycraft has worked on the Dominican Missionary Preaching Team since 1992. (Photo courtesy Sinsinawa Dominicans)

By Amy Moraczewski

Nearly 43 years ago, Dominican Sister Helen Marie Raycraft cofounded the itinerant Dominican Missionary Preaching Team, alongside Dominican Sister Guadalupe Soria, Dominican Brother Tim Wrinn, and Dominican Father Ralph Rogawski. 
The team was born out of an evening of faith-sharing amongst a community of 80 adults in Barrio Pillin in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Since that time, the team of Dominican priests, sisters and lay persons have expanded their reach to faith communities in eight countries and more than 35 states.
“The ministry of the Word is the foundation of our Dominican spirituality. Our community preaching flows out of our daily prayer life, both personal and liturgical, as well as praying and studying with many groups of people, especially our extended community of Dominican laity,” Sister Helen said.
Sister Helen herself has served across the U.S., as well as in South America, but has called Austin home since 1992. A member of the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation, she began her ministry as a grade school teacher in the Bronx, where she began learning Spanish. She then volunteered for an assignment in Bolivia and spent the next decade building small faith communities in eight different countries throughout Latin America. 
In response to the growing needs of Hispanics in the U.S., Sister Helen and the rest of the team returned in 1975. For the three years that followed, they divided time between Austin, Idaho and the Rio Grande Valley, traveling with the migrant workers based on the season. 
In 1978, Bishop John Fitzpatrick invited the team to move to the Rio Grande Valley, where they served until 1992. During that time, Sister Helen helped establish more than 800 small faith communities and also served as the Vicar for Religious in the Brownsville Diocese.
“Through the years I have sat at the feet and learned from women and men who have very little formal education. Their wisdom and faith reflection flow from their deep prayer life. Suffering has honed them into being praxis theologians who continually reflect on the movement of the Spirit in their life experiences,” Sister Helen reflected.
In 1992, Bishop John McCarthy and Holy Cross Father Fred Underwood invited the team to relocate to Austin. Since that time, Sister Helen has continued to serve the Hispanic community as a missionary preacher and spiritual director. 
Sister Helen, Father Rogawski (who died in 2012), and their companions have given bilingual parish evangelization missions in many of the small towns across Central and South Texas. Additionally, she regularly leads retreats throughout the diocese in both English and Spanish. 
Another member of the Dominican Missionary Preaching Team, Dominican Sister Margery Race lives and serves alongside Sister Helen throughout the Diocese of Austin. The two sisters are joined by 50 lay Dominicans across Central Texas who contribute to their evangelization efforts.
Returning to Austin in 1992 was a blessing to Sister Helen, as it allowed her to be near her youngest brother. Although the family grew up in Chicago, he has lived at Marbridge, a home for adults with special needs, in South Austin for the last 53 years. Sister Helen learned how to be a caretaker from her father, a pediatrician, who raised four children after her mother passed away when she was only 2 years old. In Sister Helen’s words, “He was both a wonderful mother and father to us.”
Over her years as a Sinsinawa Dominican, Sister Helen has touched many individuals on their personal journey toward Christ. Her work in this mission traces back to a member of their congregation who, as a high school teacher, spoke to the teenage Helen of Jesus as a real person. 
“That planted a desire in my heart. As a result of that, I began to develop a serious prayer life as a high schooler and wanted to know this person she talked so wonderfully about,” Sister Helen said.
This humble notion helped Sister Helen to discern her vocation, which led her to enter the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation after high school. She proceeded to earn her college degree and later studied to earn a master’s degree in education and counseling, as well as a Doctor of Ministry in spiritual direction. Her experiences as a missionary also inspired the publication of two books: “Seeds of Hope” and “Fruit of Our Labor” (co-authored with Father Rogawski).
Reflecting on her decision to pursue religious life, Sister Helen sums is up simply by saying, “I love being a sister, and I love being a missionary. My energy comes from the faith-filled people who have blessed me in a thousand ways.”
For more information on the Dominican Missionary Preaching Team call (512) 385-1719.

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