“Love one another as you have hitherto done!”
– Nano Nagle
As Sister Gemma looks over her life, she is grateful to God for being at her side and helping her over the bumps in the road. The bridge was always a shining symbol in her life. She was born the day the Golden Gate Bridge opened. Her father was one of the architectural engineers of the bridge.
She grew up in the Marina district of San Francisco and went to St. Vincent de Paul Elementary School. The years flew by, and before she knew it, she was graduating from the Academy of the Presentation. The Sisters who taught at Presentation made an impression on her. She enjoyed being with them not only in class, but also working with them. She belonged to the drama club, and she was sacristan as well. During her senior year, the Lord gave her an invitation to follow Him. She accepted it.
She graduated in June 1955 and entered Presentation Novitiate in January 1956 in Berkeley, California. She was received on July 1, 1956, wearing a white bridal dress in a beautiful ceremony at which her parents were present.
Sr. Gemma Wilson at her graduation from Academy of the Presentation in 1955 and on the day she entered the Sisters of the Presentation in January 1956.
Sister Gemma interjected, “I might mention here that dogs were always a part of my life. Even on visiting Sunday, my parents brought my cocker spaniel to see me.”
The whole novitiate moved to Presentation Center in Los Gatos in 1957. It was like living in the country. There was a swimming pool, as well as hiking trails.
Sister Gemma professed her first vows on July 5, 1958. Her first teaching assignment was at St. Agnes School in San Francisco.
Thirteen years passed quickly, and she decided she was being called to a new ministry. In 1971 she became a student at San Jose City College in the nursing program. In 1973 she graduated with a R.N. degree, but finding a job was another story. It took time, but she finally landed a job at San Jose Hospital on the evening shift. She loved her work with the patients and the staff.
Sister Gemma had always wanted to train a guide dog. There was a program at San Rafael’s Guide Dogs for the Blind, so she applied and was accepted. She became the temporary handler/trainer of Abraham, a German Shepherd. For 18 months she went to weekly training classes and dog events. Only 50 percent of the dogs are accepted for further training. Abraham did not pass, so she was offered him back, and she gladly accepted. Her hobby in dog training continued, but she switched breeds. Shetland Sheepdogs became the breed she chose.
Sister Gemma celebrated her Silver Jubilee on February 21, 1982, with her parents who were celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary. The ceremony was at Nativity Church in Menlo Park. The Mass was concelebrated with six priests, with many Sisters in attendance. “What a glorious day for my parents and me!” she remembered.
When her mother died, her father missed her very much, so Sister Gemma decided that maybe a “hearing dog” would help. Her dad applied and was accepted into the program. Tami was his new dog who alerted him to the doorbell and telephone. Because of Tami, he had a new lease on life. Her father took excellent care of Tami. They went on daily walks and even to restaurants.After 16 years of nursing at San Jose Hospital, Sister Gemma decided to leave to work in a doctor’s office. This was equally rewarding, because she got to individually care for many patients. After ten years the doctor decided to change to a university setting. She did not go with him, so once again she was jobless. God was watching out for her because the Principal of St. John Vianney School asked her to come and work as a teaching assistant. Sister Gemma remarked, “What an incredible job – working with children.” She did this for 16 years, loving every minute of it. She retired from St. John’s in 2017.
Her last Sheltie, Finn, became a therapy dog who visited care centers, libraries and schools with her. They especially enjoyed visiting patients with impaired memories. Sister Gemma’s newest dog, Luv, has been certified as a Therapy Dog.
Always before her were the words of Nano Nagle on her deathbed, “Love one another as you have hitherto done!”
|2003 – 2005||Instructional Aide, St. John Vianney School, San Jose|
|2005 – 2010||Teaching Assistant, St. John Vianney School, San Jose|
|2010 – 2012||Instructional Aide, St. John Vianney School, San Jose|
|2012 – 2013||Teaching Assistant, St. John Vianney School, San Jose|
|2013 – 2014||Instructional Aide, St. John Vianney School, San Jose|
|2014 – 2015||Teaching Assistant, St. John Vianney School, San Jose|
|2015 – 2016||Teacher, St. John Vianney School, San Jose|
|2016 – 2017||Teaching Assistant, St. John Vianney School, San Jose|
|2017 – 2018||Trainer of Therapy Dogs, San Jose|
|2018 – 2019||Visitor of Convalescent Homes with Therapy Dog, San Jose|
|2019 – 2020||Visiting Pet Program for Care Facilities, San Jose|
|2020 – 2021||Therapy Dog Program Outreach, San Jose|
|2021 – 2022||Volunteer Ministry with dogs to health facilities, San Jose|