She attended Aztec Elementary for her first four years of school and lived with her grandmother. “I picked up English just hearing it,” she said.
In the fifth grade and part of the sixth, she attended Sacred Heart School, but transferred to Gobernador Elementary so it would have enough students to stay open. She returned to Sacred Heart Academy for the rest of her schooling, where she was a classmate with future Ursuline Sisters Sheila Smith and Michele Morek.
“I first met Evelyn Gomez on the first day of our sophomore year,” Sister Michele said. “My first impression of her was that she was ‘stuck up.’ And her first impression of me, she said later, was that I was a loudmouth and a show-off. Well, she was right about me, but I was wrong about her! I soon discovered that she was just shy, and once I got to know her we became fast friends, sharing a locker room and the west end of the dormitory the next year.”
Often on weekends the two were at one or the other’s house, Sister Michele said. “We loved to stay up until all hours and read and eat potato chips. She would still be reading when I went to sleep, and she would already be reading again when I woke up.”
After graduating from high school in 1961, Sister Sara Marie wanted to join the Navy, but her uncle convinced her parents that she should go to college.
Sister Ambrose Martin was the principal at Sacred Heart and offered her a half-scholarship to Brescia College in Owensboro, Ky. Sister Michele got a scholarship and said she was going to join the Ursulines, so Sister Sara Marie decided to as well. She entered the postulancy in 1961, along with Sister Sheila.
It did not take long for Sister Sara Marie to grow homesick in Kentucky. “The humidity was killing me,” she said. “If I wouldn’t have been scared to come home by myself on the bus, I might have left.”
Sister Sara Marie was a little timid about getting in trouble at Maple Mount, Sister Michele said. “Our first night on campus, the night before we were to enter the novitiate, a few of us sneaked out and left dummies in our beds to fool the Guest House sister, but Evelyn was afraid we would be caught and sent home,” Sister Michele said. “Well, sure enough, Sister Pancratius came in to wake us up … poked our dummies and from then on, blamed Evelyn for the deception (because, as she said, “You were the only one there!”) So much for goodness being its own reward.”
Change was in the air at Maple Mount shortly after Sister Sara Marie arrived, she said. “Sister Ambrose was a learned and wise person, a former superior, she began to tell us things were changing, and urged us to question things we were told.” Sister Ambrose died in 1975.
On a mission
After graduating from Brescia with a degree in special education, Sister Sara Marie’s first job in 1966 was teaching second and third grade at St. Denis School in Louisville, Ky., where a dozen Ursuline Sisters lived in the convent. The next year she was sent to St. Charles Elementary School in Lebanon, Ky., a rural area in Marion County where she served until 1972 as a special education teacher for fourth to sixth graders.“I enjoyed that work, being out in the country with the kids,” Sister Sara Marie said. “Most of the time it was a roomful of boys.”
Chris Denniston, a former sister who is now an Ursuline Associate, taught with Sister Sara Marie in an adjoining, crudely constructed portable classroom. “Sara’s first suggestion was that we find carpet samples to place under each desk, so the students wouldn’t feel the cold air coming up from the floors,” Denniston said. “While I was standing in the midst of carpet samples, trying to pick pretty colors, Sara was doing the practical thing … talking with the storekeeper about getting them for free. And we did!”