From the time she was a child at St. Bernard’s School in Oakland, and later at Notre Dame High School in San Jose, Geraldine Harris always liked the Sisters. At that time, she remembers, “I wasn’t the type that the Sisters would have encouraged to enter the community. I was always talking and not exactly a good student.” Just the same, right before graduation, Sr. Mary Henrietta, the superior of the convent, asked her if she had ever considered being a Sister. “Oh, no,” she responded, having read a lot about women reporters, “I’m going to be a newspaper reporter.” By the end of the summer she had reconsidered but, wisely, it was suggested that she wait a while. She started college at San Jose State and a year and a half later entered the postulate at Saratoga.
After making her vows, Sr. Geraldine (Geraldine Marie) enjoyed teaching seventh and eighth graders in Notre Dame schools throughout California for 22 years. When her niece, Susan, was born developmentally disabled and Sr. Geraldine realized how limited the child’s opportunities would be, she became very interested in the needs of people with disabilities. She immersed herself in a study of special education and for a time worked at Hope Rehabilitation in San Jose until she was ready to open Susan House, a board and care home in Campbell. There, in a simple house on a quiet street, with the help of Sr. Claire Spellman and other Sisters and friends, Sr. Geraldine provided a safe and loving home for developmentally disabled women. Sr. Claire remembers how beautiful Sister was with the girls, loving and strict. “She taught them a lot,” Sister remembers. “They learned to take the bus, to come home on time. They did their own laundry, kept their rooms orderly and helped in the kitchen.” Looking back, Sr. Geraldine says, “Developmentally disabled people are often exploited, disregarded and materially poor in our society. Susan House was St. Julie’s work–to care for poor women and children, to foster their human dignity.”
Sr. Geraldine continued this work for 23 years until she moved to Watsonville. Still concerned for the poor, she immediately volunteered at St. Francis Catholic Kitchen in Santa Cruz. Director Richard Crowe has worked with Sr. Geraldine ever since he began this work in Santa Cruz. “I’ve been here eight years,” he says, “and she has been here longer. Many of our people have mental health problems and she has a very disarming way with them. She has a generosity of spirit, a gentle, quiet spirituality and a great wit.” He appreciates the support he has received from her personally, as do the volunteers. “She’s part psychologist, part spiritual director,” he says. “She’s part of the family here.”
After celebrating 60 years in religious life, Sr. Geraldine says, “I have always appreciated the wonderful Sisters that I’ve gotten to know. We have been through all the good and hard times together. I am very grateful.”