SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Dr. Rick Voell, a retiring teacher from St. Lawrence Seminary High School, said he will miss the sense of community between students, teachers and staff the most, which was one of the high points of his 20 years at the boarding school located in Mount Calvary.
“The care, concern and presence of the members of the SLS community is extraordinary,” he said. “The hospitality, graciousness and Gospel rootedness the Capuchins give witness to is unparalleled. I hope I have learned from such and will miss being surrounded by that spirit on a daily basis.”
With nearly four decades of teaching in Catholic schools, beginning with Thomas More High School from 1979-82, the 67-year-old Voell joked that the one thing he would not miss is the grading.
Following Thomas More, he served as a missionary with his late wife, Carol Rottier, at St. Mary Parish in Prince George, British Columbia. He became an adult and family minister and began the RCIA program in British Columbia. While there he wrote the book, “Because we believe: A session-by-session planning guide for your parish RCIA using Believing in Jesus.”
Among Voell’s other work was co-founding the Grain of Wheat Community, which focused on consulting, retreat direction and ad hoc religious education. From 1986-2000, he served St. Mary Parish in Fond du Lac as an adult and family minister and parish administrator. He also worked with the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Stewardship Committee, consulting for various parishes.
During his tenure at SLS, Voell wore a variety of hats, teaching Christology, sacraments, world religions, senior religion capstone synthesis, psychology, wood shop and mechanical drafting. He also served as a spiritual director and service ministry coordinator, gave mission and values talks to staff, directed retreats and was a track coach.
Considering his educational credentials: B.A. Theology, 1976, Marquette University; his M.A. Theology, 1981, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, Ontario; and Doctor of Ministry: 1996, University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois, Voell likely would have experienced a more lucrative career if he had ventured into the public-school system, but the Catholic seeds were planted early in life.
“My parents were involved with the St. Vincent de Paul society in the 1950s at Old St. Mary’s Parish in downtown Milwaukee. I remember accompanying them to various things,” he said. “My mother used to frequent the Cardijn Bookstore when it was on Wisconsin Avenue, as well as was actively involved with the Booker Ashe House of Peace and Casa Maria Hospitality House. I guess through all of these experiences, I was being formed into a perspective of ‘being for others.’ When opportunities arose to share with others these types of experiences, apparently I responded ‘yes.’”
Over the past 38 years, Voell experienced many educational changes in technology, using white boards over blackboards, Internet-based research and student engagement with social justice issues.
“The last years, I primarily taught seniors. The main component of senior religion was the Capstone project. This was an opportunity for seniors to choose a social justice issue in which they had an interest,” he said. “The students researched the social justice concern from a Church perspective, did social analysis on such issue, developed a plan of action for the topic and then presented this to their fellow seniors. The topics grew deeper and broader through the years, and the students’ willingness to engage these topics also deepened.”
Sharing memories with students and witnessing their developing awareness for others and their needs is a source of joy for Voell, who said he understands the challenge for everyone to broaden their worldview and include the voiceless. While on a road trip during the recent riots, a former student from Chicago reached out with the question, “What do you think about this Dr. Voell? This is so ‘counter’ to everything we learned at The Hill.”
“This grad of 2020 was truly grappling with his worldview and how to make sense of what he saw, heard, felt. What an incredible learning (opportunity) to build on and grow from. I know that this is very recent and yet I can recount various moments like that one through the years,” he explained. “At St. Lawrence, students are invited to nurture a worldview rooted in the Gospel and provided a platform from which they can reflect on the world. Now and then, it happens.”
Voell also enjoyed working with students in service ministry, particularly the annual mission trip. Integral in the student’s formation is the devotion to service. In the years he’s assisted with the program, many hearts have changed.
“(I have seen it) with the students, those whom they serve as well as members of the Fond du lac County community who witness our students serving others. This might be through Special Olympics, Operation Back to School, meal programs, nursing home visits, etc.,” he said. “Part of the mission statement of the Province of St. Joseph states: ‘Transforming the world through reverence.’ That is what happens: hearts are changed. Facilitating mission trips to the south Rio Grande Valley for 16 years stands out as one of the most poignant experiences for students and staff.”
Being the hands and feet of Jesus is at the heart of Capuchin spirituality and Voell saw it clearly throughout his wife Carol’s more than nine years of serious illness and eventually her death.
“One of the most, if not the most powerful experiences of my time at St. Lawrence, was celebrating Carol’s funeral in the seminary chapel in 2018,” he said. “The presence, encouragement, affirmation and support through the years of her illness was beyond words.”
In his retirement, Voell, who enjoys being active, plans to spend time playing pickleball and golf, biking, kayaking, walking, reading, volunteering, working and traveling.
“I have a son and his wife in Vancouver, British Columbia, a daughter as well as son and his family in Madison, and a daughter and her family in Shorewood,” Voell said, adding, “I’ll be visiting and playing grandpa.”