by Kathleen Dolan
Chestnut Hill College’s longest-tenured faculty member recently received the highest academic honor in France for her significant contributions to its language and culture.
The Ministry of National Education of the Republic of France promoted Mary Helen Kashuba, SSJ, DML, professor of French and Russian, from Officer to Commandeur, the highest grade of the Ordre des Palmes académiques, a national order that recognizes distinguished academics and figures in French education and culture.
Sister Mary Helen has been teaching foreign language and literature courses at the College since 1963. She has served in many other roles at the College during this time, helping to guide and promote the instruction of foreign language. She is currently the chair of the Foreign Language and Literature Department.
“Learning any language is going to enrich a student’s experience because they are learning how another culture expresses itself,” Sister Mary Helen said. “It’s a means of communication, a discipline, and a way of learning critical thinking, and it’s a way of understanding another culture because I think that one of the main failings in America is that we don’t understand other people in other cultures, and we think of ourselves often as superior.
“We have to learn diversity, and you learn diversity through studying another language. You are enriched. You are able to read their literature. You are able to find out about the important people in the society. It’s a benefit.”
Established in 1808 by French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and originally given to French academics, the award comes in the form of a golden medallion on a purple ribbon. It has been awarded on an international level since 1866 to anyone who demonstrates exceptional leadership, participation, outstanding work, and advocacy in French culture and education.
Sister Mary Helen was nominated for the honor by the executive director of the American Association of Teachers of French, the world’s largest association of French teachers. She is an active member of the organization, serving as its president from 2013 to 2015. She has also held leadership positions in other language associations, including the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Furthermore, since 1978, she has served as the local administrator for the National French Contest, an annual French language contest for grade school and high school students.
Sister Mary Helen has received several awards for her contributions in promoting foreign languages, such as the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, the AATF Ludwig Award, and the Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association Educator of the Year Award. Most recently, she received the 2019 Nelson H. Brooks Award, which recognizes world language professionals for longstanding and exceptional service and leadership.
After Sister Mary Helen received the Nelson H. Brooks Award, Cecelia J. Cavanaugh, SSJ, Ph.D., the dean of undergraduate studies at the College, said, “Above and beyond her prestigious scholarship for over fifty years and all the excellence she demonstrates and inspires on campus, Sister Mary Helen Kashuba has been tireless in advancing, improving, and promoting the teaching of foreign languages, literature, and culture in regional, national, and international professional circles.”