Sr. Helen (Thomas Julie) Dugan celebrated 75 years as a Sister of Notre Dame in 2015! Back on the occasion of her 90th birthday seven years ago, the Notre Dame Elementary School students she was tutoring made a poster listing “90 things we love about Sr. Helen.” They included her humor, her smile, her warm heart, her positive spirit and lively faith.
Nothing has changed; like fine wine, she improves with age!
This proud daughter of a Northern Ireland immigrant family was third in the line of four girls and three boys who grew up in the Mission District of San Francisco. Her father died when the children were all of school age. While their mother cooked and cleaned at Notre Dame High School and convent to pay the tuition, Helen and the other daughters kept house and cared for the boys.
At age 19 Helen declared her intention to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. One mischievous brother warned: “Helen, they will never keep you.” But, of course, they did.
The many students whose lives Sr. Helen has touched will tell you she was a born teacher and very much loved, especially because of her great sense of humor. She has a wonderful memory for names and birthdays of former students and a host of wonderful stories. Sister taught at St. Mary and St. Joseph Schools, both in San Jose, at Notre Dame in Yuba City and many other schools.
Sr. Helen tells of one mission that stands out–being a founding member (1943) of the elementary school community in Carmel, where classes were first held at Villa Angelica during WWII. The Villa with its wide patio was just a step from the ocean. Its present bedrooms served as classrooms until the new school was completed at Carmel Mission. She is still in regular contact with some of those students.
After 33 years as a teacher she found another very different population to work with at the John XXIII Senior Center in San Jose. Her bingo games, raffles, rummage sales and friendly interactions made her a favorite there too. Later, in retirement, she went back to her love of teaching and tutored for many years at Notre Dame Elementary School, Belmont.
Reflecting on her long life, Sr. Helen is grateful for her vocation, for her good health, her “family” in Notre Dame; and for her own big and loving Dugan clan. Of her own family she concluded: “We lived a frugal life but were rich in all the ways that matter!” And certainly Notre Dame has been richer for her presence!