Helen Lyons, July 3, 1942 – May 24, 2016
The indomitable spirit of saint benedict’s table
A note from Jamie Howison: This article originally appeared in the October 2016 edition of the Rupert’s Land News, and is reproduced here with permission.
In the fall of 2003, a small group of people began to gather for Sunday evening worship at St Alban’s Church to explore the possibility of starting what was to become saint benedict’s table. On one of those evenings, Martin and Helen Lyons dropped by to join us — or as Helen put it, “to check out what was going on in my church.”
As we chatted over coffee after the liturgy, Helen told me that she thought what we were doing was “awesome” and that they’d be back. Little did we know…
At the time, Helen was doing a fine arts degree and had just begun work on a new series of the Stations of the Cross. The series had originally been conceived as a set of paintings to be to be gifted to St Alban’s, yet when we voiced interest in the project, Helen changed the medium from painting to printmaking so that copies could be gifted to both communities.
That says a good deal about Helen’s character: she was a whirlwind of activity, generous in so many ways, with a deep love of people, an indomitable spirit, and a passion for art.
We have used Helen’s Stations every year during Holy Week, but that isn’t the only art she gifted us with. The following Eastertide, I preached on the figure of the Good Shepherd, remarking that most conventional portrayals gave us an image of a very clean and pure looking shepherd, whereas it was in fact hard and dirty work. The next week, Helen arrived with a new painting of a shepherd with dirt smudges on his face and strong working hands. One year, I mentioned that I wished we had an image of a pregnant Mary to display during Advent, and by the time the season began, Helen presented us with a large clay sculpture of a very pregnant peasant girl.
Yet these gifts of her art were not her most important contribution to saint benedict’s table. Helen awoke us to the place of the arts in the life of our community. She regularly organized tours of exhibits at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, helping us to see art through the eyes of faith. She co-curated two exhibits of the art of people from our own community, celebrating the work of other peoples’ hands. She enthusiastically supported the work of our arts committee, particularly the establishment of our artist-in-residence position.
During her final years Helen lived with a debilitating lung condition that forced her to slow down and step back from some of the things she most loved. It slowed her down, but it certainly didn’t stop her. Just three days before she died, she entertained friends in the home she and Martin shared, a home full of art, laughter, love, and life.
Helen has left a deep and lasting mark on saint benedict’s table, and for this we give grateful thanks to God.