Long­time prison chap­lain, who turns 100 in two days, says it ‘feels like it did when I was 40’

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - TOP NEWS - BY EM­MANUEL CAMARILLO, CST WIRE RE­PORTER eca­mar­illo@suntimes.com | @man­ny­cam

The Rev. He­len Sin­clair, known as “Queen Mother,” is two days away from her 100th birth­day — but she doesn’t feel like it.

“It kind of feels like it did when I was 40,” she said with laugh and beam­ing smile while sur­rounded by friends and fam­ily who gath­ered Satur­day to cel­e­brate the mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion.

The long­time prison chap­lain said she of­ten seems to have more en­ergy than other mem­bers of her team when she vis­its in­mates in the state’s pe­nal in­sti­tu­tions — still stand­ing when others need to take a breather and sit down.

“That shows me that there’s some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent about me,” Sin­clair said.

There was some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent about her pi­o­neer­ing mother, too.

Rev. Jesse “Ma” Hous­ton was in­stru­men­tal in prison re­form and was the first woman al­lowed to serve as a min­is­ter to pris­on­ers on death row in Illi­nois.

Sin­clair’s cel­e­bra­tion took place at Hous­ton (Jessie “Ma”) Park, which is named in honor of her mother in Bronzevill­e.

“I re­mem­ber her pas­sion. I re­mem­ber her courage. That was a brave woman,” Sin­clair said of her mom.

A ve­gan, Sin­clair partly cred­its her vigor and longevity to the diet, which she said she got from her mother.

“I’ve been eat­ing very well,’’ she said. “In fact my momma al­ways ate very care­fully, too.”

Sin­clair’s birth­date is July 14, but fes­tiv­i­ties were held over the week­end to make it eas­ier for peo­ple to at­tend the cel­e­bra­tion.

One of her six chil­dren, 65-year-old Ryan Sin­clair, drove up from Jack­sonville, Florida, and said he be­lieves his mother’s long life is at­trib­ut­able to her be­ing able to stay lev­el­headed even when things around her are stormy.

“She lives the seren­ity prayer,” he said, which asks God to grant wis­dom and courage in the face of chal­lenges.

“She ac­cepts what she can’t change, changes what she can and has the wis­dom to know the dif­fer­ence. She doesn’t dwell a lot on stuff she can’t do any­thing about.”

Her driver, Rev. Marie Buscemi, said of­fi­cials and in­mates alike adore Sin­clair and throw out the red car­pet for her when she vis­its.

“We went to Pinck­neyville and they drove her up to the door of the gym. In­side the pen­i­ten­tiary she had all the cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers come pick us up,” Buscemi said.

The pair were heart­bro­ken at not be­ing able to min­is­ter to in­mates when the state shut down prisons to vis­i­tors due to con­cerns over the spread of the coro­n­avirus.

Some of the party guests haven’t known Sin­clair long, but she still has man­aged to make an im­pres­sion.

El­liott Wat­son, 57, who lives in In­di­ana, found out only last year that Sin­clair was his great aunt af­ter a niece went on An­ces­try.com and made the con­nec­tion.

Wat­son says he tries to see her at least once a month.

“She’s a beau­ti­ful per­son; what I like about her most is she’s sharp,” he said. “She’s been every­where.”

Greet­ing his aunt with a hug Satur­day, Wat­son asked, “Well, how you do­ing?”

“I’m do­ing mar­velous, “she replied quickly. “You know I al­ways do mar­velous. That’s what I do, is do mar­velous.”


The Rev. He­len Sin­clair smiles dur­ing her 100th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion Satur­day af­ter­noon at Hous­ton (Jessie “Ma”) Park in Bronzevill­e.

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