“Love one another as you have hitherto done!”

– Nano Nagle

Gemma Wilson at her graduation from eighth grade.

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.”

Sr. Gemma Wilson with her father and dog on a visiting Sunday.

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.

As Sister Gemma celebrated her Silver Jubilee, her parents celebrated their Golden wedding anniversary at Nativity Church in Menlo Park.

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.

Sr. Gemma’s father’s beloved “hearing dog” Tami.

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.

Sister Gemma Wilson during her time in nursing.

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.

Gemma Wilson with her dogs, Duffy and Finn.

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!”

Ministries

1958 – 1959  Teacher, St. Agnes School, San Francisco
1959 – 1962  Teacher, St. John the Baptist School, Milpitas
1962 – 1964  Teacher, Holy Trinity School, San Jose
1964 – 1965  Teacher, St. Elizabeth School, San Francisco
1965 – 1966  Teacher, St. Joseph School, San Jose
1966 – 1969  Teacher, St. Agnes School, Y.C.S., San Francisco
1966 – 1969  Adult Education, St. Agnes Parish, San Francisco
1969 – 1971  Teacher, St. Patrick School, San Jose
1971 – 1973  Student, San Jose City College Nursing, San Jose
1973 – 1978  ICU Nurse, San Jose Hospital, San Jose
1978 – 1982  Staff Nurse, San Jose Hospital, San Jose
1982 – 1990  Assistant Head Nurse, San Jose Hospital, San Jose
1990 – 2001  Registered Nurse, San Jose Medical Group, San Jose
2001 – 2003  Sabbatical
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