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Sister Helen Kearney, Sisters of St. Joseph

Sister Helen Kearney is the President of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood. Established in 1860, the Sisters of St. Joseph are the largest order of Catholic nuns on Long Island with more than 500 members. Their headquarters sit on a 208-acre property in Brentwood consisting primarily of open lawn, fifty acres of Pitch Pine Oak Forest, internal roadways, and several large buildings. The Sisters of St. Joseph are committed to implementing environmentally sustainable practices and promoting environmental stewardship. They operate a community garden and organic farm, environmental programs in their ecology center, a solar energy array, and are developing a sustainable landscape plan to reduce ground maintenance.

What influenced you to do what you do?
I believe the greatest influence I have had is my life as a Sister of St. Joseph. Our mission is one of unity through love of God and neighbor without distinction. In the ministries I have had as an Early Childhood Teacher, Administrator and College Professor I always focused on the dignity and self-worth of students, parents and colleagues and encouraged them to develop their gifts and talents and make a difference in the world around them. In congregational leadership, I have been very fortunate to have the influence of visionary persons in our congregation and others who see the needs of this time and do all that is necessary to meet them. This has created a greater awareness of our relationship with all creation and our responsibility to preserve and sustain our earth, its resources and all inhabitants. Our congregation has wonderful opportunities to educate others, especially women, minister in parishes, care for the sick and elderly, and work for justice and peace for all. In this time the plight of immigrants and persons who are trafficked are in great need. We are joined by many concerned persons who seek to counter exclusion, prejudice and division while working to promote sustainable living practices. This is transformative work.

What inspires you?
In recent years I have been inspired by so many who understand the crisis of climate change and the impact it has on the significant and often destructive weather patterns we are experiencing. Those who live in poverty in our society have felt it most. Partnering with many different groups who have the expertise to reverse destructive practices, we have been able to install a 3,192 panel solar array, plan for alternative waste management on our 211 acres, preserve 27 acres of land for agriculture with organic produce made available to our neighbors, and we are now looking to preserve 40 acres of our woodlands where many species of plants and animals thrive. These endeavors are also educational opportunities for many students and community groups who visit our property in Brentwood. The outstanding support we have received from the Long Island Community Foundation and other grants is inspiring in itself.

Who’s your female role model and why?
In terms of a female role model it is difficult to pick one so I have to say the most powerful role models I had were the Sister Professors and Administrators at St. Joseph’s College. Their commitment to academic excellence, their encouraging presence, work ethic and consistent challenge to develop your talents and make a positive contribution to society taught me many valuable life lessons. They helped me pay attention to what is happening in the world around me; assess what values are being promoted and how different endeavors affect others. They helped me understand the power of relationships over individualism and how joining with others can accomplish so much good.

What is your greatest achievement?
I view the partnerships created as the greatest achievements. In school, parish and neighborhood communities and in our sustainability efforts many wonderful projects, benefitting others, have been planned and completed. In partnerships with civic, business and community groups new ideas emerge and ways to accomplish meaningful endeavors are discovered. Working closely with others who have the expertise, resources and funds more can be accomplished than by working alone.

What would you like our donors to know about you and your mission?
I think donors need to know that the Sisters of St. Joseph have remained faithful to looking at “the city,” “determining its needs,” “doing whatever is needed to be done to alleviate those needs” and we do not do it alone.

Check out their website at to learn more of the incredible work they do.

Long Island Community Foundation | A Division of The New York Community Trust
900 Walt Whitman Road | (Rt. 110) Suite 205 | Melville, NY 11747
P (631) 991-8800 | Directions | Staff | Comments on the Website

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