When Alexa Vellanoweth reflects back on her time as a student at St. Bonaventure Catholic School, she has nothing but gratitude for the way her experience helped shape her as a person. A member of the Class of 2008, Vellanoweth attributes her formative years on the Huntington Beach campus from kindergarten through eighth grade to her growth in academics, leadership, character and faith.
“St. Bonaventure has left a major imprint on how I was raised and the way that I am now,” says Vellanoweth.
Her academic road took her to Mater Dei High School (Class of 2012) and then on to Loyola Marymount University (Class of 2016) where she double majored in theatre and business. But there has always been a significant place in Vellanoweth’s heart for St. Bonaventure and the Presentation Sisters on campus – Sr. Carmel Lynch, the school’s founding principal, and Sr. Maria Kelly and Sr. Winifred Harnett, both former teachers at the school – whose contributions to the St. Bonaventure community have been immeasurable.
“The teachers, faculty and staff – and especially the sisters – made the experience really special,” says Vellanoweth.
After a chance conversation with Sr. Winifred in 2017, Vellanoweth became inspired to learn more about these women who left their home country of Ireland for lives of faith and service in the United States, including the founding of St. Bonaventure Catholic School.
Vellanoweth reached out to Sr. Maria and proposed the idea of doing a series of video interviews with the sisters that would then be compiled into a documentary – or in this case, a “nunumentary.” It took some convincing, as the sisters don’t seek the spotlight. But after a few meetings that allowed them to become comfortable with the process, the project was given the green light.
In 2017, Vellanoweth and a small crew consisting of film contacts she had made while at LMU, as well as a documentarian, spent two weekends filming at St. Bonaventure’s convent. Vellanoweth, who served as producer and interviewer, did extensive research to develop questions, but also left room to listen as the sisters shared their stories. The experience was life changing for all.
“You could tell that the crew had such a deep connection with them,” says Vellanoweth. “That’s what I wanted to capture in the documentary, because if that could happen with the crew…that just speaks to how amazing and inspiring these women are.”
The finished product, “The Presentation Sisters: A Nunumentary,” made its debut in 2019 at St. Bonaventure’s annual auction event. Now with permission from the sisters for wider release of the video, Vellanoweth hopes that viewers at the school, parish and beyond will come to see and appreciate their lives of service and love.
“They’re so beautiful and they deserve to be seen,” says Vellanoweth, “and they deserve to be recognized, above all else.”
Srs. Maria and Winifred are still involved at the school, as they often assist students who are preparing to be readers at Mass. Vellanoweth is grateful for the opportunity to learn and share about these selfless women who were instrumental in her faith formation, and St. Bonaventure is proud of their alumnus’ exemplary work on this project.
“They are amazing women, and they’ve given so much,” says Vellanoweth. “This is the least I can personally do to thank them for everything they’ve given me [and] so many other people.”
HOW TO HELP
For more information, visit www.pbvm.org.
To make a donation, mail to: Presentation Sisters at St. Bonaventure Convent, 16441 Bradbury Lane, Huntington Beach, CA 92647.