In Memoriam: Helen Jenkins, mother of Notre Dame’s president

by Paul Browne

Helen Condon Jenkins Helen Condon Jenkins and her son, Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., with Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the prime minister’s office in Dublin in July 2013

Helen Condon Jenkins, mother of University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., died early Monday morning (Feb. 13) in her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, after sustaining severe head injuries in an accident Friday (Feb. 10). She was 88.

Father Jenkins celebrated Mass with his 11 siblings at their mother’s bedside before she died.

Helen was a trained nurse and her husband, Dr. Harry Jenkins Jr., who died in 2004 at age 75, was a gastroenterologist. In addition to 12 children, the couple is survived by 43 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren.

At his inauguration in 2005 as Notre Dame’s president, Father Jenkins said of his mother:

“As I accept responsibility as head of the Notre Dame family, I look to my mother for inspiration. She raised 12 children … As you may have guessed, she’s Catholic … Twelve is a nice biblical number.

“I remember the day we all visited the Grand Canyon, and then drove to a park for lunch. Mom was handing out the sandwiches when a look of horror came across her face. She had one sandwich too many. She was no mathematician, but she knew that if she had one sandwich too many … she had one child too few.

“In contrast to the good shepherd who would leave all her sheep to go off in search of the one, Mom herded us all into the car and Dad stomped on the gas. We found Rick safe and sound. But after Mom declared that your brother was lost and now is found, we were disappointed not to get the fatted calf.

“My mother has always shown a supernatural talent for making 12 people all feel important and loved to the same degree at the same time. If ever I display any of that talent in the future, as I hope I do, you can be sure it did not originate with me.”

Father Jenkins will preside at his mother’s funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday (Feb. 15) at St. Leo’s Roman Catholic Church, 1920 N. 102nd St., Omaha. A wake will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 14) at the same location. A delegation from the University will attend.

Memorial contributions can be sent to the University of Notre Dame’s Harry and Helen Jenkins Scholarship Fund (Donor Services, Harry & Helen Jenkins Scholarship Fund, 1100 Grace Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556).