The first thing 8-year-old Leo noticed about his third-grade teacher was that she was small.
This is true! Sister Samuella Volk is still small.
She was never taller than four feet nine, she’ll tell you. Now approaching 90, she’s a little shy of that!
It doesn’t keep her from the 101 tasks she accomplishes everyday at Sacred Heart Convent, where she zips from the sewing machine (to repair sisters' clothes) to the greenhouse (where she tends to seedlings) to the dining room (where she makes short work of wiping down tables after the evening meal).
She hasn’t lost much of that energy and light she shared with Leo and his classmates at St. Patrick’s School in the 1950s.
Leo Lenn is on the first page of Sister Samuella’s Penworthy-brand spiral-bound notebook.
Like Sister Samuella, none of the five Lenn Children who passed through her classroom in those early years was very tall. For Leo, that cemented the relationship immediately.
“With her being short in stature, there really was nothing to fear!” Leo remembers today. “Everyone liked her because she was so kind and energetic!”
It wasn’t as much her small size that made the biggest impact on little Leo. It was something else.
As Leo remembers it, the 20-year-old Sister Samuella exuded a confidence that gave her charges the security they needed to learn. He recalls marching happily across 18th Street from the school to the church behind his tiny teacher, lined up with his classmates, single file, like ducks behind their momma.
“Sister Samuella could always detect what we needed whether in the classroom or navigating grade school life,” Leo says.
There was a scary old fire escape at the school. It was a circular staircase that obscured the children’s view so they couldn’t be sure where they were going or where they’d come out on the other end—a frightening prospect! Realizing the danger fear of the fire escape would present if there were ever need of it, Sister Samuella addressed the concern.
“One day, she took care to lead us down the fire escape so there wouldn’t be any hesitancy in case of a fire,” Leo says.
Sister Samuella gave her students confidence in her leadership and the safety they needed to learn.
Impact and Witness
Now retired from The Hospital Sisters Health System where he was CFO, Leo credits Sister Samuella and his other Dominican teachers with the foundation of his career in finance.
“Believe it or not, math was not always my easiest subject,” he says. At St. Patrick’s, though, the Dominican Sisters gave him the extra time and attention he needed to master the fractions and decimals required for his studies and career in finance.
Once he mastered the math, Leo realized he could choose any kind of career in finance—dozens of options would have been more lucrative than the one he ultimately chose. He learned early, from Sister Samuella and the other Dominican Sisters at St. Patrick School, that a meaningful life was more important than a wealthy one.
Leo’s years of fiscal stewardship in a Catholic hospital system indirectly impacted many thousands of patients who counted on the healing ministry his financial acumen supported. He continues to volunteer his expertise to the Finance Council of Springfield Diocese and the Dominican Sisters Charitable Trust Board. His passion for service was sparked by the witness of One Life, his diminutive third grade teacher, Sister Samuella.
Pass it on!
Even if Sister Samuella wasn’t your third grade teacher, you can be inspired by her life and make a decision to share the blessings you’ve received.
Your Christmas gift to the Dominican Sisters of Springfield allows us to pass on your generosity to hundreds of others who are now being served by our sisters in ministry.
Here’s what your gift means to just two of our sisters. It will:
Provide a vehicle, fuel, and health insurance for Sister Denise Glazik, whose job is to accompany young women discerning their call in life,
and help Sister Kathlyn Mulcahy, travel safely with women seeking refuge from violence in their home countries.
Thank you for making a Christmas gift to support our sisters’ life-changing ministry!