Helen Granowski cut a large figure: she was imposing in stature, awesome in intellect, immense in achievements, big on quirks, deep in faith, greatly loved, and profound in the impacts she had on so many.
Helen’s achievements, skills and experiences in various domains could be the stuff of numerous long eulogies. My riding instructions today are to focus on Helen in her parish ministry and in particular at Holy Trinity Kew. However, as we know, it is hard to contain Helen so there will be some border crossings.
Core to Helen’s being was her vocation as an educator. A reference from Helen’s days as a young science teacher at Meriden described her as “a teacher by heart as well as profession”. Decades later, she observed was still “essentially a teacher”. Helen was also a lifelong learner. However, to quote HBG in Ita magazine May 1993, she had become “restless” in her role as Headmistress within the confines of the system. Against a backdrop of her longstanding involvement with the Anglican Church, a profound sense of the Divine, and a timely encounter with a priest, in her
words she “made the transition from teaching to ministry”. And so, she came to Melbourne for theological training.
It is fitting that Helen chose this Church for her funeral service- a place that meant so much to her and where she means so much. It was in this parish that she commenced her ministry as a deacon in February 1991. Helen flourished and shone under the mentoring and friendship of the then Vicar, now retired Bishop, Andrew St John. As a parish, HTK participated in history when, in December 1992, Helen was amongst the first women ordained to the priesthood in Victoria, becoming the first
woman to serve as a priest in this parish. Many here will remember those heady days. Helen’s first presidency at the Eucharist in this sacred space was sensational. And perhaps some may even recall fragments of the after party in the Vicarage.
A picture of Helen in her vestments taken after that Eucharist are in today’s service booklet – those vestments now clothe her for her final journey.
Hard to believe in 2022, but the acceptance of female priests then was not universal. Several parishioners would not receive communion from Helen. Helen was respectful; dignified in her response. Recently several friends have recalled how in a distressing time of instability in this parish, Helen provided intelligent, comforting leadership.
Helen once said that as a headmistress she ran her first school like a Girl Guides’ camp and as a priest, parishes like a school. And by that I think she meant she saw her role in parish life as an encourager and educator- someone who would offer opportunities for engagement in the community of faith and for spiritual growth. Just as the Grano of earlier times had involved all manner of students in worthwhile projects, such as the colourful Platypus Patrol, so too in the parish could Helen rally
In her Holy Trinity ministry, Helen recognised and supported the knowledge and talents of parishioners. Viewing the project of faith as a shared enterprise, she found ways to promote active lay involvement in parish life- especially in liturgy, pastoral care, social justice projects and the running of seasonal groups and of course as she would say “special happenings”. These usually involved Helen-made soup, butchers’ paper, gold pens, and her current little dog. Helen loved the energy, dynamics and outcomes of groups. Her training groups were always useful and her EFM group was highly regarded. At evensong or early morning Eucharists it was very necessary to pay attention – not only for the likely post-service sermon quiz but because unscheduled audience participation was on the cards.
A strong work ethic permeated all the tasks Helen undertook. It didn’t matter whether it was in her well researched preaching, often peppered with references to school life or donkeys, or teaching RE to grade 5 at Kew Primary School, or producing the bottle stall at the fete, visiting, or ministering to the dying at Caritas Christi, Helen was ‘all in’.
For one RE class, Helen created a heavily decorated Question Box, urging the children to put in any questions they had- you know the type – about God, Creation et al – the first question was: ‘How old are you?” That was the end of the question box.
An especially telling illustration from her ministry here was Helen’s support of several people living with disability. This little group had been deinstitutionalised from a large local government facility. They were living in a nearby community residential unit. Sitting in the back pew, the little band had been coming to Church for a while although, they were largely unknown to the congregation. Over time, employing various Granowski methods, trusted happy friendships developed. Helen’s endeavour improved the quality of their lives and ours – when you think
about it, that act of ministry alone was magnificent.
Time and a lack of insider knowledge, prevent me from an elaboration of Helen’s incumbency as priest in charge of St George’s Flemington, as parishioner/retired clergy at St Bartholomew’s Burnley or her profound engagement in The Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis. Suffice to say these aspects of her life brought meaning, satisfaction, and delight. To note also that her active membership on all sorts of committees, in and outside of the Church, would fill the largest Outlook calendar. Right now, I suspect Helen may be trying to get onto Heaven’s executive committee. At the risk of overstepping my brief, I want to conclude by
acknowledging several other dimensions of this remarkable person.
Within Helen there was a great capacity for robust enduring friendship and to inspire loyalty. Her network, like the life she led, is large.
Like all of us Helen had her foibles. Probably no one was as troubled by them as she was herself. HBG could be playful, demonstrative, and very kind. But she could also be challenging (aka scary), feisty and strict. I felt that a Saturday detention was always nearby-once a headmistress!
As a friend or a parishioner, you knew where you stood with Helen and whether she liked what you were wearing. Although in her latter years much of her communication failed, almost to the last, she effectively managed to get her message across. Her yes was yes, and her no was definitely no.
Turning to the concluding years of Helen’s life:
Understandably, initially it was very hard for Helen to adjust to living in residential care. She did her best. In the early days, on a daily basis, Helen would drop into the care manager’s office, to offer suggestions for organisational improvements.
The past six and a third years of Helen’s life have seen a dreadful convergence of ageing, the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, the complexities of life in aged care and lately the constraints of the COVID pandemic. Her world contracted and her difficulties increased. Here the continuous efforts of the team at Mary MacKillop Aged Care to support and care for Helen- their Doctor Helen– must be acknowledged.
During this trying period Helen displayed such courage. She remained Helenesque.
To quote the ethicist and physician Paul Komesaroff – in her, one could see “the poignancy of her past splendour dulled by the ravages of age”. Yet when confronted by the inherent difficulties of this phase of her life, she would say “fair enough or it doesn’t matter” – when it wasn’t fair and it did matter.
I trust that as those who love Helen, you will understand my sentiments when I say: I am relieved that her ordeals are over, and she is now with the God she loved and served.
Helen, priest and friend, dear one, rest peacefully. And as she would say: “See you”.
Dr Jane Sullivan 16/9/22