Helen R. Graham, a member of the Congregation of the Maryknoll Sisters since 1956, arrived in the Philippines in September of 1967. After a school year in Datu Piang, Cotabato, a predominantly Muslim area in Mindanao, she returned to Quezon City and began teaching at Maryknoll College and at the Sister Formation Institute which was founded during Vatican II to provide a minimum of theological education for religious women. In 1993 the Institute began to offer degrees in Religious Studies and became the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies (IFRS).
She writes: Having taught some 52 years at the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies (IFRS), originally founded during Vatican II as the Sister Formation Institute, I have had the constant joy of seeing young religious women (and a few religious men as well!) grow through their two or more years at the Institute. They come from places like mainland China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Kenya, Congo, Brazil etc....as well as the Philippines....and (except for Brazil) they come from very traditional Catholic backgrounds and their time with us opens their eyes and expands their theological and biblical horizons. My greatest joy is to have students become my colleagues sitting on the same platform with me in various public events, for example: a PhD in Biblical Studies from Catholic U in Washington is teaching in seminaries in China, and twin PhDs (one in OT and the other in NT) are teaching in universities here in the Philippines, and a PhD in Spirituality is my colleague at IFRS and has served as my dean for six years etc.
Over the years Helen has also taught at various Major Seminaries and Schools of Theology both in Mindanao and Quezon City. During Martial Law in the Philippines (1972-1986) Sister Helen became co-founder of the Task Force Detainees, a mission partner of the Association of Major Superiors of the Philippines, which was involved in visiting political detainees, helping their families, and recording accounts of torture and disappearances.
She writes that she has been extremely blessed to have been able to attend four one-month intensive studies of a particular book of the Torah at the Bat Kol Institute in Jerusalem which was founded, in response to Nostra Aetate, by Sister Maureena Fritz, a sister of Sion. The professors were rabbis as well as Christian teachers. She says, “My most moving experience was the special study we had of Teshuva (Repentance) which took place in Jerusalem during the High Holy Days in 2009. Aside from our formal classes in Teshuva from Talmudic, midrashic, psalmic, liturgical etc. perspectives, we spent Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at Hebrew Union Synagogue just overlooking Jaffa Gate. It was one of the highlights of my spiritual life.”
Sister Helen continues to teach Sacred Scripture in the Philippines today, as well as to conduct evening Bible study groups, workshops and seminars in the Philippines and other parts of the world, which she has been doing since 1984.