In September, 1935, Mary Evelyn Thorpe, now Sister Julie Marie, walked past four houses on Fulton and crossed the street to begin first grade at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School on Grand St. Her teacher was Sr. Ann Maureen King, and, as she remembers, “I transferred my faith from God to Sr. Ann Maureen, 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, Sr. Joseph Marie Petar, Principal is memorable because she let her choose her picture and take as long as she liked to make that decision. At Christmas, she was chosen to be an angel in the school play. Her claim to first grade fame 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 and unwelcomed, for her, was the birth of her brother George. Who needed another child? As a result, she was in Sr. Julia Clayton’s class now, and was “sick” and had to go home so often that Sr. Julia asked Sr. Ann Maureen for help. Sister took her to the “sick room” where there was a huge 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,” she says, 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 remembers Christmas days when, too old for a tricycle, 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.
Sr. Julie Marie taught and administered 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.”