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Nun of the Above

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Mrs. Successful Guy: The graduates of the girls school had a different claim to fame.

Bellarmine's plaid-skirted parochial counterpart--the all-girl Notre Dame High School--has a different story to tell

By Cecily Barnes

ALTHOUGH SAN JOSE'S oldest all-girls school, Notre Dame, began the same year as Bellarmine in 1851, it has produced pathetically fewer notables. "Well, why do you think?" guffaws Notre Dame principal Mary Lou Schoone. "Bellarmine is all guys."

On the Notre Dame site in downtown San Jose, the difference between the schools is apparent. Notre Dame's campus, while inside a beautiful historic building on South Second Street, is cramped and worn. Schoone's smallish and modest office pales in comparison to the elaborate black-couched headquarters of Father Muller. The reason, both parties suspect, has to do with Bellarmine's elaborate giving foundation, and Notre Dame's struggling equivalent.

"Bellarmine is three times the size [of Notre Dame], and what percent of them go on to Santa Clara University?" admissions director Mary Beth Riley asks. "Then [the men] will be ready to launch into business, and locally there's going to be good opportunities available. [At Notre Dame] it's not as parochial."

And of course if the men build their careers locally, they will be more likely to remember, and give back to, their roots.

Notre Dame's four matriarchs sit around a small table in Schoone's office riveted by the prospect of being compared to their male brotherhood school, where, incidentally, most of their sons go to school. They've done their best to make Notre Dame competitive, but none of the women venture that their school can rival Bellarmine or that their graduates have nearly the same prestige.

While women were busy hosting tea parties and raising babies during the school's first 100 years, Bellarmine men formed an elaborate network that today creates bountiful pools of alumni money and opportunity for new graduates.

In light of this history, it's not surprising that Notre Dame's graduates are mostly well known by virtue of their husbands.

With the exception of San Jose Symphony director and former City Councilwoman Shirley Lewis and a few others, Notre Dame women have names that are recognizable because of the men they married or have as fathers. Such women include Pat Schott (Steve Schott's wife), Shirley Schiro (Phil DiNapoli's sister and Henry Schiro's wife), Margaret Sellers McEnery (Tom McEnery's mother), Pam West (Tony West's sister) and Miranda Gonzales (daughter of Mayor Ron Gonzales).

"The most notable thing about Notre Dame women is that they marry Bellarmine men," Notre Dame marketing director Debra Jones laughs. "At least that's how it used to be." Although marriages between the schools can still be found, they're not nearly as prevalent as they once were, when the ties between the schools were being formed.

However, other ties still exist. Many of the Jesuit priests who teach at Bellarmine, including Father Gerry Wade, were taught by the Notre Dame nuns in grammar school. It's an irony that doesn't escape the women of Notre Dame.

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From the April 22-28, 1999 issue of Metro.

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