Sister Julie lived a very full life – for nearly 103 years! Born Phyllis Bellefeuille, on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota, she was always proud of her Chippewa heritage. She was close to her loving family of six boys and four girls, and grateful for her large international Notre Dame de Namur family, as well.
She grew up on her family’s ranch in Visalia, CA, and remembered picking fruit and walnuts with her siblings and many cousins. Closeness and longevity characterize the Bellefeuille family; when her brother Charles died at 91 years of age, Sr. Julie said at the funeral reception, “Bellefeuilles don’t die at 91; we need an autopsy!"
She met the Sisters of Notre Dame when she started first grade at St. Mary’s School in Visalia, and decided on that first day that she wanted to be a Sister when she grew up. When she attended boarding school at Moreland Notre Dame High School in Watsonville, CA, the Sisters accepted her without tuition, which she appreciated. Soon after graduating, Phyllis did enter the community and became Sr. Julie St. Francis; she was part of the first group of postulants and novices to move in 1937 from Belmont to Saratoga for their novitiate training.
As Sr. Julie St. Francis, she loved teaching—almost every grade—beginning with 70 first graders at St. Columbkille School in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for the children, but a blessing for her, half of them came down with the measles, and when they returned, the other half had their turn. “So it was an easier way to start!” she said.
Later, with Masters’ degrees in Religious Education and Library Science, she taught Scripture every morning at College of Notre Dame (now NDNU), then managed the college library the rest of the day. What a change from 10 and 11 year olds! Sr. Julie always loved reading, studying and learning new things. She also enjoyed writing articles and several interesting personal accounts.
Father Jerry Wade, SJ, and his classmates at St. Clare School in Santa Clara, remember with affection their “happy and energizing 7th grade teacher . . . who appreciated athletics . . . and we knew that she favored the boys!” Fr. Jerry described Sr. Julie as “an affirming friend,” and was happy to join her for several birthday celebrations in her later years.
After retiring from more than thirty years of classroom teaching, Sr. Julie took summer workshops in Canon Law, and worked for 15 years in the Marriage Tribunal for the Dioceses of San Jose and Monterey. Wanting to help couples be reconciled with the Church, she found it very consoling when couples expressed gratitude for her listening to their side of an “impossible” marriage story.
Sister served two terms in Province leadership and assisted with the formation of young Sisters. In these responsibilities she remembers “mistakes aplenty” and the “kindness and patience of the Sisters.” There were perks, too, like visits to Hawaii and Alaska to visit the Sisters in their ministries, and even a bobsled ride to visit Sisters in a remote village. Her travel gave her the opportunity to meet with other Native Americans, adding to her knowledge about her Chippewa tribe, part of the Algonquin Nation that lived along the Eastern Great Lakes for many centuries.
With her practical nature, resiliency, and wry sense of humor, Sr. Julie lived gracefully, if not always comfortably, through major changes in religious life.
She especially enjoyed her time as a staff member of the Notre Dame House of Prayer where she had more time for praying, walking and reading as well as welcoming guests and sharing the quiet beauty of Carmel with them.
Even in her 90’s, during the 12 years she lived at the Province Center in Belmont, she still enjoyed volunteering at nearby Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, taking the Eucharist to “elderly” people in a nearby nursing home.
Living at Mercy Retirement and Care Center in Oakland these past four years, she prayed every day for her former students, her family and her Notre Dame Sisters. Sr. Julie died there peacefully on July 20, 2020, still reflecting the goodness of God.
She will be lovingly remembered by numerous nieces, nephews, grand and great-grand nieces and nephews, by equally numerous friends and former students, and by her Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
Mass will be celebrated for Sr. Julie on November 5, 2020. Click here to view the service on YouTube.
Sister Julie's Ministries
1939-42 St. Columbkille School, Los Angeles, CA
1942-45 Mission Dolores School, San Francisco, CA
1945-48 Notre Dame Elementary School, Belmont, CA
1948-53 St. Clare Elementary School, Santa Clara, CA
1953-55 Notre Dame Elementary Belmont & St. Charles School, San Carlos, CA
1955-57 St. Francis of Assisi Elementary School, Seahurst, WA
1957-61 Mother of Sorrows Elementary School, Los Angeles, CA
1961-66 St. Mark Elementary School, Shoreline, WA
1966-80 College of Notre Dame, Belmont, CA
1980-86 Provincial Leadership, Saratoga, CA
1987-94 Marriage Tribunal, Diocese of San Jose, CA
1992-96 Director of EFS, College of Notre Dame, Belmont, CA
1996-97 Marriage Tribunal, Diocese of San Jose, CA
1997-99 House of Prayer Staff, Carmel, CA
1999- Marriage Tribunal, Diocese of Monterey, CA
2004 Parish Ministry