Meet Sister Helen (Thomas Julie) Dugan

Sr. Helen at the 2018 Jubilee celebration in Belmont.

Sr. Helen (Thomas Julie) Dugan is celebrating 80 years as a Sister of Notre Dame in 2020!

Back on the occasion of her 90th birthday in 2009, 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.

Sister Helen tutors a student at Notre Dame Elementary School, Belmont.

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.

Sr. Helen enjoyed watching Golden State Warriors games with her good friend Sr. Ann Stubbe.

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!

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  1. dEAR hELEN I HAVE APIC OF FYOU IN nd uniform , remember me r and mary Hansen? I fell thructhe skylite? went back to public school after that, missed nd badly. RN from St Francis, San Francisco, worked 26 years. taught nursing 10 yrs. vol Forest Service 12 yrs. niw kuvung iun Mancos, CO 18 yrs now. will be 95v in jan 3 kids, my girl died of cancer last year ar 60 yr; still coorespond with Barbara puhl, Mary's daughter. congratulkatons on your great life. 3315

  2. I (Robin Coats) knew you as Sister Thomas Julie at Holy Angeles School (now St. Isidore's School) in the late 1950s. I was only there in my 7th and 8th grade. You may have known my two younger brothers, Robert and Francis, since they went to Holy Angels for all eight years. After Holy Angels and then the local public high school, I majored in math at Stanford and received my Ph.D. in economics from U.C. Berkeley. I taught at USC for 6 years and then went on to specialize in energy economics in the private sector. I am now retired. We have lived in Pasadena for over 40 years but I have never forgotten the sisters at Notre Dame (Marysville) and Holy Angels. You were all very special.

    1. Thank you for writing, Robin! Sr. Helen will surely be delighted to know of your success and all of the Sisters will appreciate your good thoughts.

  3. So many pleasant memories of Sr. Helen at Most Holy Trinity in San Jose. I used to save Campbell's soup labels for her and she'd give me small prizes that I was always so excited to receive. My MHT years were from 77-81.

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