Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)


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


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 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.”

 ?? PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES ?? The Rev. Helen Sinclair smiles during her 100th birthday celebratio­n Saturday afternoon at Houston (Jessie “Ma”) Park in Bronzevill­e.
PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES The Rev. Helen Sinclair smiles during her 100th birthday celebratio­n Saturday afternoon at Houston (Jessie “Ma”) Park in Bronzevill­e.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States