Joan Davis met and loved the Sisters of Notre Dame at St. Clare’s School in Santa Clara, then at Notre Dame High School, San Jose. Her teachers there included Sister Mary Wilma King, Sister Paula Butier, and Sister Julie Bellefeuille. “I could see they were happy, and had a good time,” she says. Wanting to give her life to God, she joined the Sisters in 1956.
As Sister Catherine of Siena, she taught elementary school in Marysville, Chico, Yuba City, Folsom, Los Angeles and Redwood City. Then she began her “perfect job” of being the full-time, credentialed librarian at Notre Dame Elementary School in Belmont. “I love books and I love children, so being librarian in this school was just perfect.” Evaluation teams would always commend the school for the important message her presence gave to the children and parents about reading and lifelong learning.
For most of the thirty-nine (!) years Sr. Catherine served as librarian, Sr. Dolores Quigg was principal. She describes Sr. Catherine as being very kind to the children, always willing to help them find books they might like or ones they needed for school projects. Dolores tells the story of replacing Sister in the library one time, and offering to check the card catalog to help a child who came in. “When will Sr. Catherine be back?” the child asked, “She knows what books I like, and she knows exactly where they are.” The children were convinced that she had read all 5,000 books in the library.
Sr. Dolores also thought that Sr. Catherine might qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records for the estimated 7,000 times she happily supervised the children at recess or lunchtime!
“On a personal level,” her former co-worker, Suzy Jones Smith, said “Sr. Catherine was such a positive colleague, always interested in how our families were, always with a kind word of support. Whenever my second-graders had done a good job singing or preparing a school liturgy, she never failed to let the children know how wonderful they were, and that she was praying for them. There was never any doubt in my mind, nor should there be in any of her former students’ minds, that she not only remembers them, she cares for them still.” Suzy also remembers Sr. Catherine as a super sports fan, always on top of baseball and football games.
Trust in God’s goodness has sustained Sister and her family through many hard times, including her own significant health issues and the loss of her two brothers (Michael in an auto accident as a teen and Tim of ALS). Sister Catherine now lives at Mercy Retirement and Care Center in Oakland, where she shares a room with her former teacher at St. Clare’s Elementary, Sister Julie Bellefeuille.
“Catherine’s sincerity, authenticity and joy are her own expressions of God’s goodness,” shares Sr. Jacinta Martinez, a long-time friend. “She is gracious and welcoming to everyone who comes into her life. She is still so appreciative about the nurses, aides, dining servers, everyone. Like her parents, she remembers everyone’s birthday, every anniversary—that’s just how she is.”
At this time of Jubilee, Sr. Catherine is grateful for the inspiration and strength of St. Julie in her life and for the friendship and support of the Sisters.