Dominican Sister Helen Butler (formerly Sister Jean Gregory), the founder of Dominican Village in Amityville, died April 28. She was 88 years old and had devoted 70 years to her Dominican Religious life.
Sister Helen was the daughter of John and Helen (Crowley) Butler. Helen and her younger sister, Joan, were raised by their loving paternal grandparents, with their other children: George, Rose, Ella and Genevieve. The family lived in the parish of St. Joseph in Long Island City and Helen attended the parish elementary school where she first met the Dominican Sisters of Amityville.
She attended St. Agnes Academic High School, College Point, where the Dominican Sisters also taught. Upon graduation Helen decided to enter the Novitiate of the Dominican Sisters in Amityville. She received her Dominican habit and the name Sister Jean Gregory on August 4, 1949.
Sister Helen professed her vows on August 5, 1950 and embarked on her ministry of education/administration with a first assignment to the parish school of All Saints in Brooklyn. All Saints parish supported two levels of schooling, elementary and high school. Helen taught in the elementary school for two years (1950-1952) and, from 1952-1964, taught business subjects in the high school. During these years Sister Helen pursued her BBA at St. John’s University and received her degree in 1959.
In 1964 Sister Helen was asked to become the registrar at Molloy College in Rockville Centre. There, along with her associate, Sister Maryaline Zierle, she updated the Office of the Registrar. Sister Helen returned to teaching business at St. Michael’s High School in East New York in 1968. Her experience at Molloy and again as a teacher convinced her that the future lay in digitizing large amounts of material. She entered a program at New York University and received a Certificate in Data Processing/System Analysis in 1972. This she utilized within the Congregation at Queen of the Rosary Motherhouse, preparing for computer use in 1971. At the same time, she worked for the Diocese of Rockville Center in Information Technology. Sister Helen remained there until 1975 when she transferred to the Diocese of Brooklyn to work in Information Technology and give assistance to parish councils as they grappled with a changing population and the requirements of the Second Vatican Council.
In 1980, Sister Helen became a systems analyst with the Catholic Medical Center housed in the former St. Anthony’s Hospital in Woodhaven. One year later she was elected to the Congregation’s Executive Board as Director of Finance/Treasurer, serving two terms until 1989.
Sister Helen recognized the need for a place where aging people, who were having difficulty taking care of their own homes, could live. She decided to plan a place for them where most worries were relieved and began the project which resulted in the creation of Dominican Village, a retirement and assisted living facility in the social, community model. With the support of the Amityville Congregation, she planned this community, secured funding and architectural and construction assistance and became its executive director. Dominican Village opened its doors in 1992 with Helen as president and CEO and is still in operation today.
In 2002, Dominican Village received full accreditation in New York State by CARF for assisted living. Sister Helen was delighted to be able to assist Dominican Fathers Bob Vaughn and Ron Henery with a place to live. Later, with Bishop Murphy a section of Dominican Village became Pius X Residence for retired priests.
In 2007 failing health necessitated her leaving her position at Dominican Village. One of the buildings there bears her name: the Helen Butler, OP Hall.
Sister Helen has received several awards including the Catherine of Siena Award from the Congregation in 1993 and a Certificate of Distinction from the NYS Housing Finance Agency in 1993. Sister Helen was a member of the Board of Trustees of Good Samaritan Medical Center, the Board of Directors of Our Lady of Consolation Geriatric Care Center, and the Opening Word Program.
She was a very active member of the Amityville Dominican Congregation, serving on many committees and participating in many Chapters. She served in wider circles of Religious women also. With Sister Mary Ryan, she worked hard to create the Sisters’ Senate in the Brooklyn Diocese in order that the Sisters’ voices would be heard. She was also a member of an early national group of Sisters, the National Association of Women Religious which, in the early 1970s, addressed equality and poverty issues.
Within the Amityville Congregation, Sister Helen will be remembered as a person dedicated to sacred scripture, a hard worker who also loved parties, fun and dancing. Always hospitable, she loved to have guests. She will be missed by her many friends in the Congregation.
Sister Helen is survived by her sister, Sister Mary Veronica, OSC, of the monastery of Christ the King, Delray Beach, Florida, her cousin John Linghi and his wife Mary and extended family and friends. Interment was in the Sisters’ cemetery in Amityville.