Sister Helen was exactly as she was portrayed: a tough minded, street smart woman who had been around the block a few times and back. At age 56 she joined the Benedictine order after losing her alcoholic husband to a heart attack, one son to a heroine overdose and the other to a stabbing. An acolholic herself, she decided to become sober and grab a second chance. She wanted to help others the way she wished she had helped her sons.
Sister Helen looked after twenty something men at Travis House, which she ran with an iron fist. These men were not only addicts but some had also committed serious offenses. Sister Helen's language was salty, but she knew it was language they understood, because she had been there herself. And she desperately wanted them to understand that this was their chance. So no conning, no blaming, no excuses were allowed. Obey the rules or you are out.
And the rules were pretty simple. Stay clean, pay rent, help out, no women in the house and maintain curfew. If you couldn't ( or wouldn't ) follow the rules, then you were back on the streets and someone else who wanted a chance took your place.
It was pretty clear that many of the men had a love/hate relationship with this abrasive woman much as a teen might have with a parent who has laid down the law. Tough love isn't always appreciated until much later when you can view your life in perspective. But many of the men stayed and worked on their sobreity because deep down, they knew this may be their last chance.
At age 56, Sister Helen brought who she was to the ministry, the sum total of her life's experiences. She didn't suddenly transform into a meek and pious woman because she put on a veil. She understood the language and psychology of the addict because she had been one, so she was able to connect with them. You can't con a con artist, as is said, and all addicts, at some point, are that. Including Sister Helen.
God's work is done in many ways using many methods. It's not a cookie cutter experience and shouldn't be. Giving a life back in Travis House is no less valuable because the approach doesn't fit our sensibilities of how a " proper nun" should act.
Fortunately, Sister Helen understood that.