Sister Judith (Kieran) Flahavan

During her freshman year at Notre Dame High School in San Francisco, Judy began thinking about becoming a Sister. Her faith had been richly nourished by her parents and her education. After graduation, she became a postulant with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

Sister Judy’s first years in ministry were challenging: Over a period of eight years she taught seven different grades in six different places in California: Santa Barbara, Seattle, San Francisco, Saratoga, Carmel, and Salinas. Then for four years she directed the religious education program at St. Joseph Parish in Marysville, and for the next four years she taught junior high students at Holy Family School in Honolulu.

In 1980, she was in another new place—St. Columbkille School in Los Angeles, and in a new role, this time as principal. In the low-income, inner-city neighborhood, she found St. Columbkille School to have a strong, dedicated faculty and hard-working, faith-filled families intent on supporting their children. Although most parents had little formal education, the children who graduated from St. Columbkille School were successful in high school and most graduated from college. Sister Judy remembers with gratitude her ten years at the school and community there.

Sister Judy Flahavan in a group hug with kindergarteners

When she was given a sabbatical year, she spent part of it at a Maryknoll language school in Bolivia, then serving with Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Tupac, Peru. The experience of living at Tupac was profound for her. Tupac is a shanty town on the outskirts of Lima. The people living there—mostly families with children—had been driven from their rural homelands by terrorists. At their previous homes, they had been able to grow food, but Tupac had no place to plant. The ground was sand, and the people had almost nothing. In many cases, their homes were shacks of cardboard or tin. Still, they devised ways to help each other survive.

When Sister Judy was there, the town had been established for about 15 years. Things were getting better. Some people had jobs outside of Tupac, took a bus to work, and were able to earn money. Vendors selling produce came to the town. Children received education at a Fe y Alegria School established by the Jesuits and administered by Notre Dame de Namur Sister Liane Delsuc. Even with the improvements, Sister Judy had never seen such poverty.

Returning to Los Angeles, Sister Judy was looking forward to being a principal again, hoping there was a position available at a school that served students in poverty. When she inquired about this at the Archdiocesan office, she was directed to Ascension School, where she served as Principal for six years.

Judith Flahavan with middle school students at Notre Dame Santa Barbara

For the next 13 years, Sister Judy served as principal at Nativity School. The Northridge earthquake in 1994 rendered the building unusable. With the support of the Shea Foundation, the Archdiocese, many donors, the clergy, and dedicated parishioners and families, the school campus explanded greatl to create an environment that supported students and teachers.

Sister considers all her years of being a principal in Los Angeles to be a blessing. Students at the three schools were given opportunities to go to Catholic high schools, graduate and go to college—opportunities which sadly were otherwise lacking in their neighborhoods.

Sister thought she'd retired from teaching and administration in June, 2012; then she learned that Notre Dame School in Santa Barbara (NDS) needed a principal. So in January, 2013, Sister Judy once again took on the leadership role. Moving to peaceful Santa Barbara after her many years in South Los Angeles was a bit of an adjustment. But after receiving a warm welcome from people thrilled to have a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur back at the school, she felt very much at home.

Sisters Judy Flahavan and Susan Olson advocate for climate responsibility.

Sister Judy soon realized that families at NDS shared values and realities with families in South Los Angeles:

  • their reverence for God
  • their respect for each other,
  • the way they helped each other,
  • their income level their strong work ethic, and
  • their commitment to their children's education.

Once again, foundations and donors helped to improve the educational program, facilites, and the scholarship fund. Sister appreciated the dedicated faculty, two of whom were Notre Dame Associates. She realized that at NDS, St. Julie’s vision of educating those living in poverty was alive and well.

Sisters Liane Delsuc and Judy Flahavan serve breakfast at the Kino Border Initiative dining room in Nogales, MX, in December 2019.

Since then, Sister Judy spent a year as a member of the Notre Dame Formation Community in Ohio. She was also able to join other Sisters of Notre Dame helping immigrants at shelters in Arizona, California, Texas, and in Mexico.

Looking back on her 60+ years as a Sister of Notre Dame, Sister Judy is grateful to God for so many blessings in her life.  She reflects, “Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” Ephesians: 3:20

Sister Judy's Ministries


1964-65 Dolores School, Santa Barbara, CA
1965-67 St. Philomena Catholic School, Des Moines, IA
1967-68 Mission Dolores School, San Francisco, CA
1968-70 Sacred Heart Elementary School, Saratoga
1970-71 Junipero Serra Elementary School, Carmel, CA
1971-72 Palma High School, Salinas, CA
1972-76 St. Joseph Parish, Marysville, CA, Coordinator Religous Education.
1976-80 Holy Family Catholic Academy, Pearl Harbor, HI
1980-1990 St. Columbkille School, Los Angeles, CA (Principal)
1991-97 Ascension Catholic School, Los Angeles, CA (Principal)
1997-2013 Nativity School, Los Angeles (Principal)
2013-16 Notre Dame School, Santa Barbara, CA (Principal)

Volunteer Service

2002 Moreland Notre Dame School, Watsonville, CA, Confirmation Coordinator
2016 Notre Dame School Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, Development Assistant
2018-2021 Immigration Support in Arizona, California, Texas, and Mexico.

We thank the editors of Good Works, the international magazine of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, for the use of a portion of the text from ""Seeds Grow in Southern California," in the October 26, 2016 edition.