After nearly dying of diphtheria as a child, Alberta Marie Karp learned early on that life was fragile. Full of gratitude, she felt God’s call to her while kneeling at the communion rail of St. Anthony’s Church in San Francisco. So, it was with some surprise that Sr. Alberta found herself celebrating her 75th year as a Sister of Notre Dame in 2012. She admits she never expected to live this long!
While it’s been a good life, she laughs at her rocky beginning as a Sister. In 1940 she was sent to Dolores School in Santa Barbara to teach second grade. And as she recounts, “teaching was the last thing I wanted to do!” But, thankfully, in no time at all, she discovered that she not only liked teaching, but had a gift and a passion for it.
In 1957 she became a proponent of the “Writing Road to Reading” method and found it a tremendous teaching tool. Alas, not every principal approved of the phonics method, but Sister found that with some “adaptation” she could still use it and had the joy of seeing children quickly learn to read and spell.
As was typical at the time, Sr. Alberta was given many different missions and taught at 12 different Notre Dame and parish schools including: Notre Dame Elementary School in Chico, St. Lucy’s School in Campbell and Immaculate Heart School in Belmont. Jim Lucchesi said of Sister, “She was my first through third grade teacher at Notre Dame Chico. One could not have been blessed with a more nurturing educator. She was able to maintain control of 40 energetic primary grade students through the power of positive direction and instruction.”
Sr. Alberta also had the experience of working with children with multiple handicaps. In the ’60s she was paired with an unruly four-year-old boy who couldn’t walk or talk. She helped him with gentle, but firm discipline. She sang to him and gave him the attention and affection he craved. In a short time, the boy’s behavior and skills had progressed enough to allow him to attend school with his peers. “From that experience I learned that every child, if given TLC and a chance, is capable of learning!” says Sr. Alberta.
She’s had many “highs” in her lifetime. A favorite was meeting President Dwight Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie in Carmel (1956) and she has saved a letter he sent them after the visit. But even that visit couldn’t compare with the joy of helping raise her three grandnephews Jesse, Shane and Corey in the early ’90s. Now young men, she remains close to all three. Two have a band in LA and it’s safe to say that Great Aunt Alberta is one of their biggest fans!
Perhaps the hardest thing she has faced is giving up teaching. “I loved teaching little children and working with young minds.” Though no longer in the classroom, she continued tutoring a few students in phonics until two years ago. Now living at Mercy Retirement Center in Oakland, Sr. Alberta also enjoys visiting with family and friends and listening to books on tape.