Gold Star for Sister Lucy

by Mary Powelson

Front row – Eileen Dixon, Michella Norris, Carol Vinson, Pattie Purcell, Sr. Lucy, Jean van der Hagen, Tina Ferro. Back row – Alan Koepf, Dan Foye, Michael Taylor, Paul Stagnaro, Ken Morris, Charlie Lopez, Nanette Deetz.

On a beautiful October morning, Sr. Lucy Holguin entered the lobby of Mercy Retirement and Care Center to meet a former student for an outing. A man was pacing in the lobby and she called out to him, “Michael?”  Michael Taylor greeted her and within minutes, a parade of other men and women marched into the lobby. And, after 51 years, Sr. Lucy was reunited with her first first grade class, the first graduating class of St. Philip Neri, Alameda.

This reunion was exactly the kind of gift for which teachers–especially retired ones–are most grateful. Having 20 students gather 50 years to honor their teacher is a gift.  But this was no ordinary group of former first graders. Through Facebook, 35 out of 42 members of their class have reconnected. And after reading an issue of “Visions,” the newsletter published by the Sisters, Michael put an idea into action that had been brewing for months.

Although most class reunions take place in restaurant or hotel, these planners who included Christina Ferro, Danny Foye and Charlie Lopez, thought otherwise. Upon leaving Mercy Center, the group said to Sr. Lucy “Why don’t we drive by the school?”  What she didn’t know is that they had made arrangements with St. Philip’s pastor to open the school on a Saturday morning so the class could gather in their old classroom.

And what a reunion it was. Their old classroom opened a flood gate of memories. Sr. Lucy had taught them well, but it was not the reading, writing and arithmetic that were immediately recalled.  For this class, it was the “clean hands chart” and the recess basketball games.  Sr. Lucy laughed about the chart. “I used to check their hands and fingernails every day to make sure they were clean, and if they were, they got a gold star on the chart.”  This ritual was the first thing everyone remembered.

Before they left the classroom, they handed Sister an autographed basketball. Back in the day, Sr. Lucy, in full habit, would take their classroom red rubber ball and play basketball with them in the schoolyard. But it wasn’t the sound of ball hitting the pavement that was at the heart of that memory: it was Sr. Lucy’s rosary beads clicking and clanking when she ran and passed the ball to her energetic first graders.

After taking pictures and reminiscing in their old school, the former first graders continued the party at Christina’s home. They ate, laughed, and talked, and after a big celebration cake for Sr. Lucy, they called it a day.

“I was exhausted!” Sr. Lucy recalled happily, “and when we parted, there were a few tears.”  As she returned to Mercy Center that day, she was loaded down with presents from her class–an autographed ball, a coffee pot for her room, a framed picture of the class–and, as Sr. Lucy adds, “one of the best memories of my life!”

As Michael noted, “Sr. Lucy gave us a heck of a lot more than anyone could ever give her back.”