School Memories

Remembering Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School

Julie Marie Thorpe and father
Mary Evelyn Thorpe and her father.

By Sr. Kay McMullen, SND

In September, 1935, Mary Evelyn Thorpe, walked past four houses on Fulton and crossed the street to begin first grade at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School on Grand Street in Redwood City. Her teacher was Sister Ann Maureen King, and, as she remembers, “I transferred my faith from God to Sister, as in ‘Sr. Ann Maureen says.’” These were the days of the 5-cent pencil tablet with the picture in the front. For Mary Evelyn, Principal Sr. Joseph Marie Petar is memorable for letting her take as long as she wanted to choose the picture. At Christmas, Mary Evelyn was selected to be an angel in the school play. Her claim to fame in the first grade was her one line, the closing line, “Can we sing one more song before we say goodnight?”

Mary Evelyn was promoted to second grade right on schedule but the unexpected birth of her brother George upset her. Who needed another child? She was in Sr. Julia Clayton’s class now and was “sick” so often that Sr. Julia asked Sr. Ann Maureen for help. Sister took Mary Evelyn to the “sick room” where there was a picture of the boy Jesus on the wall. She explained the brothers were nice and her brother would grow up to be a nice boy, like Jesus. “He didn’t quite live up to that,” laughs Mary Evelyn, remembering him as a young child.

During these years, the Sisters still lived in the Hanson Mansion convent across the El Camino on Arguello. A man drove them to school, but on weekends or holidays they walked over and would pass by her house. As a very small child, she’d ride to the corner on her tricycle to meet them. She also remembers Christmas days when her younger brother, George, and sister, Winnie, would run out to show the Sisters their gifts.

Mt. Carmel was a neighborhood school where children walked or rode bikes and parked them in a row of bike racks in the school yard. School and parish were the center of life for Catholics. When you went to church you knew everybody and everybody would stand around after Mass talking. You shopped at the same stores down on Broadway. Many of the children went on to high school together, especially the girls who went to Notre Dame in Belmont. Redwood City was still a very small town in those years and the parish and school were the homey center of life for Mary Evelyn, her classmates and their families.

Mary Evelyn became Sister Julie Marie following in the footsteps of her favorite teachers. Sister was teacher and administrator in Notre Dame schools throughout California and Washington, before spending several years in pastoral ministry in an Alaskan village of the Fairbanks Diocese. Although retired, she says, “I’m an educator; I’ve always been an educator.”

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