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Notre Dame leader 'lived it; she didn't preach it'

Published May 27, 2007


Thinking that teenagers might be in the cars parked in front of Notre Dame Academy late one night, Sister Marie Carmel awoke Sister Sharon and told her to grab her veil and get outside. Wearing pajamas, the two jumped into the car and tore across the lawn to confront the kids.

As they neared, the nuns realized that the cars were occupied by police officers, not teenagers.

To save face, they waved at the officers "like they were on a mission of mercy someplace" and headed back to the convent.

"The joke was on Carmel, " said Mary Louise Chesley-Cora, a former student and former nun who taught with Sister Carmel at Notre Dame.

The story and many like it were shared at a wake recently to honor the life of Sister Marie Carmel, principal of the former all-girls Catholic high school in St. Petersburg from 1963 to 1970.

Sister Marie Carmel, of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, died May 3 at her order's retirement home in Baltimore. She was 88.

Former students have started a scholarship fund in her honor at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, which was formed in 1974 when Notre Dame and Bishop Barry High School - St. Petersburg's all-boys Catholic high school - consolidated.

"She would have loved to have seen an opportunity for a young woman to be recognized for what I call 'the quiet contribution to humanity, ' " said Kathy "Tina" (Torchia) Doermer, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1966.

"Everybody loved Sister Marie Carmel. She knew each one of us, each one of our personalities. She was very keen that way, " Doermer said.

More than $1, 500 has been donated in Sister Marie Carmel's name, said Sue Brett, director of institutional advancement. A $500 scholarship was awarded at the end of this school year to Class of 2007 graduate Julianne Escoto, 18.

The school is establishing guidelines for future recipients, Brett said.

"The e-mails are still coming in from people who want to do it for her. Our school is no more, the bricks and mortar are gone, so I hope we can continue it, " Doermer said.

Carmel Theresa Galligan was born Dec. 10, 1918, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree from the College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y., and entered the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Baltimore in 1939. She earned a master's degree in biology at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and a master's in theology from St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vt.

Sister Marie Carmel served as principal at St. John's Literary Institute, a Catholic high school in Frederick, Md., from 1956 to 1962. She later served as the religious education coordinator for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

With her health declining, she went to Villa Assumpta in Baltimore in 2001.

She is survived by a brother, Clement Galligan of Hillcrest Heights, Md., and nieces and nephews.

Former students said they'll remember Sister Marie Carmel for her compassion and humility.

"I do know that she was what I needed at a bad time in my life. ... I can't say that about all of my teachers or friends, but I can say it about her. I won't ever forget her. For me, Notre Dame was never the same after she left, " said Celeste (Valinho) Gold, Class of 1971.

Sue (Kurant) Smith, Class of 1965, said she'll remember Sister Marie Carmel for her laid-back style, great sense of humor and unwavering faith.

"She was very spiritual. She lived it; she didn't preach it, " Smith said.

How to help

Scholarship fund

To donate to the Sister Marie Carmel scholarship fund, make checks payable to St. Petersburg Catholic High School, attention Sue Brett, with Sister Marie Carmel in the subject line, 6333 Ninth Ave. N, St. Petersburg, FL 33710, or call Brett at 344-4065, ext. 237.

[Last modified May 26, 2007, 18:38:08]

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