By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

“Frankly I was scared to death,” said Barbara Helm about the panic she experienced regarding the value-eroding messages presented, particularly by the media, in the 1980s as she and her husband, Dr. Boyd Helms, raised five children, ranging from infant to 18- years-old.

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Pictured at a Holy Family Institute day of recollection are, from left, top row, James Dupre, Daisy Dupre, Mildred Mumphrey, Roselyn Curran, Laura Kranske, Barbara Helm RN, Boyd E. Helm MD; bottom row, Randal Caffery, Stacey Caffery, Darlene Vidrine and Kirby Vidrine. Photo provided by Boyd Helm


Her fears were quelled when she spent time with the Daughters of St. Paul.

“I was doing some volunteer work for the Daughters of St. Paul in their book store in Baton Rouge in 1984. I was very impressed by the joy and enthusiasm the sisters had for their apostolate. And I loved being in the bookstore, where I knew our eucharistic Lord was present. I wanted to share the joy that these sisters experienced,” said Helm.

“At the time my oldest daughter, Shannon, was 18-years-old. One of the sisters asked me if she could mail some vocation materials to Shannon. I agreed. However, when the materials came to Shannon, she looked them over and handed them to me with a smile. ‘These must be for you, Mom,’ ” Helm said. “Shannon was right. In the packet was a copy of Family Magazine. One of the articles was about Holy Family Institute. I fell in love immediately.”

Wryly borrowing a line from the movie “The Godfather,” Helm said, “God made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

“The news that I might be able to consecrate my life to God, by taking public vows, even though I was married and the mother of five children, seemed like an answer to my prayers,” said Helm.

HFI, a Vatican-approved organization for people who feel called to consecrated married life, is part of the worldwide Pauline Family, which includes the Society of St. Paul, for priests and brothers, and the daughters of St. Paul, for nuns. The Pauline family is dedicated to supporting family life and spreading the Gospel, especially through mass media. She said she is comforted knowing Pauline religious all around the world are praying daily for HFI members.

Helm contacteded Father Tom Fogarty SSP, superior of the HFI, who wrote to her for a few months and explained the institute until she decided, “God wanted me to take this great step in my life.”

After making the commitment to begin formation, Helm’s worries about taking on too many obligations faded.

“I managed all of the duties of formation without depriving my family and my husband,” said Helm. “No one complained that I was neglecting them. In fact, I was very happy and felt so privileged to have this beautiful vocation which took my married life to a new higher level, in this life and for eternity. As concrete proof, my husband, who once said he could never join HFI because his obligations as a busy cardiologist could never allow him to fulfill the requirements of a religious institute, requested to join the Holy Family Institute in 1989.”

“I had to watch her before I joined,” quipped Boyd Helm before adding with admiration, “She changed, and our marriage became even better than before. I said, ‘I’m going to start the process.’ ”

The Helms described the formation process in terms of marriage, such as the “first date,” or postulancy, when members of the institute and those considering joining HFI get to know each other; “going steady/engagement,” or novitiate, when things are getting more serious and the person’s suitability and real intentions are examined; and the wedding, or final perpetual vows, which are life-long.

New members make perpetual vows of conjugal chastity, in which the spouses seal their sacramental promise of fidelity to each other and to God so that their consecration reinforces their existing and primary vocation as husbands and wives.

They furthermore make a vow of poverty to keep in perspective the various resources needed to adequately fulfill their vocation as parents.

Members also make a vow of obedience to put God first in their lives, especially when it comes to daily and difficult decisions in their lives.

As with marriage, newly professed members come into a new family, which includes HFI members from around the world, the Helms said.

The members develop relationships through retreats and connect with each other through electronic media, including blogs and emails, in which prayer requests are shared. They also receive ongoing resources and support which help the members fulfill their vocation of helping the family grow in holiness.

The Helms said simple things like having books of the saints for children, such as St. Aloysius, St. Dominic Savio or St. Therese of Lisieux, that are small enough to hold in their hands, can teach them big faith lessons.

Celebrations are also important. The Helms have a monthly gathering of family members, which now include 13 grandchildren, to celebrate the family birthdays that fall within that month.

All that the members of HFI members do should “radiate” the love of Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, said the Helms.

That love should also especially extend to the broken families, emphasized Boyd. As a cardiologist, he has seen how families are impacted by physical and mental health issues of a loved one. As Boyd shares the news of serious health issues with patients and their families, the family may stress over how they will coordinate their loved one’s care. He also sees people in their 60s and 70s taking care of grandchildren because their children are addicted to drugs or have mental issues. His “heart talk” in these cases is compassionate in order to help them draw closer to God.

To bring about a more just society, children must learn from the example of their parents, according to the Helms.

“If the parents are striving for holiness, it can only do good to the children, whether it’s obvious today or not. The children are learning from what they see,” said Barbara.

Those wanting to know more about HFI are invited to attend their meetings, which take place the second Sunday of the month, 3-4 p.m., at the St. Francis Chapel of Ollie Steele Burden Manor, 4200 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge.

Next: Marian Servants of the Eucharist