Beloved founding principal of St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Huntington Beach touched the lives of families with her kind, gentle ways.
Often when she walked the halls of St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Huntington Beach after students had been dismissed for the day, Sr. Teresa Carmel Lynch, the founding principal who served in that role for three stints totaling 29 years, would spot a teacher still working.
“Please go home to your family,” she would gently but firmly tell the instructor.
For Sr. Carmel, who died Nov. 16 at age 91, family was everything.
She leaves behind countless children, parents and colleagues who, over the decades, came to view her as a paragon of their Catholic faith – the embodiment of a gracious, caring, kind and compassionate spiritual leader.
And, yes, a member of their family.
With a sparkle in her eye and an Irish lilt to her voice, Sr. Carmel was warm and gentle, and always chose to see the best sides of her students.
Kids who were sent to her office for getting into mischief may all have left with a piece of candy – a trademark gesture of Sr. Carmel — but the respect she exuded meant they would never get into trouble again.
“She was never happier than when she was with her students,” said Paul Stanford, who worked with Sr. Carmel for three years as a computer teacher from 2005 to 2008, when Sr. Carmel retired from St. Bonaventure.
SR. CARMEL LYNCH IS PICTURED WITH ST. BONAVENTURE CATHOLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS IN 2008. COURTESY PHOTO
Stanford and his wife, Mary June, were among a handful of close friends and loved ones who were with Sr. Carmel when she died peacefully at the Regina Residence, an
assisted living facility in Orange.
For more than a year after Sr. Carmel fell ill and before she died, the Stanfords visited her weekly, bringing her freshly cut flowers from their home garden in Westminster.
“She had a huge impact on my life and my faith,” Paul Stanford said. Many feel the same.
THE SIMPLE LIFE
Sr. Carmel was from Kells, County Meath, Ireland.
One of eight children, she grew up on a farm and loved the simple country lifestyle.
After completing her education and landing a job in government work in Dublin, she answered the call to religious life and joined the Sisters of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary.
After working as a missionary for five years in Pakistan, she was sent to California with three other sisters to start St. Irenaeus School in Cypress in 1963. Two years later, she was assigned to St. Norbert School in Orange.
In 1966, Sr. Raphael, as she was then known, was appointed the founding principal of St. Bonaventure. She and Msgr. Michael Duffy, the founding pastor of St. Bonaventure Church, together set the direction that put the school on a path of academic excellence that continues today.
In 1968, Sr. Raphael was assigned to St. Irenaeus School, where she was principal for five years. In 1972, she returned to St. Bonaventure as principal. In 1985, Sr. Carmel
took a sabbatical year in Rome. When she returned to California, she taught at St. Robert School in San Bruno.
From 1990-1994, Sr. Carmel served as director of religious education at St. Norbert Parish in Orange.
She returned as principal of St. Bonaventure in 1994. During that time, an endowment fund for the school was initiated, and a new administration building, and the Duffy Center were added. The school also earned the 2006 National Blue-Ribbon Award.
Sr. Carmel had a California teaching credential, a master’s degree in education and a master’s degree in school administration from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Dorothy Mullin, educational technology coordinator at St. Bonaventure School, became a teacher after being urged to do so by Sr. Carmel when she was an aide in 2000.
“We always said we worked with Sr. Carmel — we never said we worked for her,” Mullin said.
She recalled Sr. Carmel’s humility.
“Walking across the school grounds to go to Mass, she would bend over and pick up trash,” Mullin said. “She was an amazing example to the children.”
Mullin, whose three children went to St. Bonaventure, added: “We still come to work because of Sr. Carmel. We’re still trying to pay back to her what she did for our children and everybody.”
Vanessa Frei, director of marketing and enrollment at St. Bonaventure School, said she’s forever grateful for the impact Sr. Carmel had on her two children, the students, faculty and families over the years.
“Sister Carmel will be remembered as a guiding light who helped shape our St. Bonaventure children as well as a tremendous example of what it means to be a Christian servant for the entire school community,” Frei said.
Stanford, who retired in 2019, recalled a priest who was at her side when she died.
“He said she not only led many children to Mass, but to heaven as well – including parents and everyone else she touched,” he said. “Because of her, I grew much closer to my faith.”
St. Bonaventure Principal Mary Flock called Sr. Carmel a “bright light.”
Said Flock: “Through her daily actions and deeds, she created a solid foundation for which St. Bonaventure Catholic School rests today. It’s comforting to know that although she is no longer physically present, her legacy of love, faith and service can be found in every corner of the school.”