|Louise Volpe, front, was honored by St. Philip Church for her 43 years of service to the parish. With her at the retirement party were St. Philip Pastor Father Bala Marneni, O.F.M, and her family: Mary and Darrell O’Saile, , Alaura O’Saile, Richard Volpe, Ronald Volpe and Ralph P. and Alexis Volpe.
Louise Volpe began her legacy at St. Philip Catholic Church in 1971, shortly after the parish celebrated its 100th anniversary.
“Father (James N.) Miller was there and he needed a little help in the office, and I volunteered,” said Volpe. “And then I just stayed on.”
For 43 years, that is. That amazing investment of time, energy, gifts and love was acknowledged at a parish-wide retirement party for Volpe on Saturday, April 11.
After volunteering for about three years, she was put on the payroll as a four-day-a-week part-time employee. The staff was much smaller then. “It was a one-gal operation,” said Volpe. “Just myself and Father. I did whatever was needed.”
When she started there were about 100 families at the parish, which pretty much represented the number of Catholics in Williamson County. In a relatively short period of time the expanding Catholic population, out of necessity, led to the establishment of new parishes. Almost 30 years ago part of St. Philip branched off to become Holy Family Catholic Church in Brentwood. St. Matthew Catholic Church was established in Franklin in 1978, and in 2008, the Catholic Church of the Nativity opened its doors in Spring Hill.
Today, St. Philip boasts almost 2,000 registered families, with 850 children in its religious education program.
Volpe has been privy to all of that remarkable growth from her vantage point in the parish office.
Kim Leisinger, St. Philip’s director of administration, has been a colleague of Volpe’s for the past 19 years.
“When I first came, our offices were across the hall from each other, under the sky light at the entrance to the space that was the church in 1975,” recalled Leisinger. “In those days it was just Father (Edward) Arnold, Louise and I in the office. Over time, we have had many changes here, and she has been the constant.”
There have been changes in staff, and even more significantly, in the parish’s physical footprint. During Volpe’s tenure, it grew from a small church and rectory to a campus with five separate worship and school structures.
“Louise has a great sense of the history of St. Philip,” Leisinger said. “With the exception of the original church, she has been a parishioner during the construction of all the churches built here and remembers circumstances and stories for the building of each of them. She knows the people that have been involved and the history of the many ministries we have here. There is always a story!”
Part of Volpe’s “story” is her unique contribution to the St. Philip community. According to Leisinger, Volpe is the staff member who always remembers parishioners’ birthdays and other important life occasions, and has a reputation as a beloved cook and baker.
“Her biscotti are well known throughout the parish,” said Leisinger. “On holidays or birthdays you can expect to find little packages of them from her. She has a great work ethic and doesn’t mind helping or sharing when people need it.”
Another part of the Volpe story is her dependable but unconventional work schedule and M.O. “People used to say, ‘What hours do you work?’ And I said, ‘When I get there,’” Volpe explained. “When I get there I start working, when I’m ready to leave I leave. It was always that way. I just came and went as I pleased.”
None of the seven priests she has worked for seemed to object. And at the retirement party, a bevy of well wishers showed up to tell Volpe how much they appreciated all the time she put in at the parish, no matter when those hours, days and years were worked.
“It was a great success, but overwhelming,” Volpe said. “It was a pot luck supper. I went through the line, just barely, because everybody kept coming up and grabbing me and taking me off to the side to take pictures, you know how that goes. Actually, I don’t think I even ate two bites of my dinner. I couldn’t tell you what they had, but everybody said it was great!”
At 88, Volpe has decided to call it quits, to get her “things in order”, and to relish her remaining days with her four adult children, three grandsons and one great granddaughter. However, farewell party aside, she doesn’t seem to be exiting the premises quite yet. She has vowed to stay on as long as it takes to hire and train her replacement.
It seems like that particular memo hasn’t made the rounds. “This morning when I walked into church, this one usher said, ‘What are you doing here?’” said Volpe. “And I said, ‘What do you mean what am I doing here? I’m coming to church!’ He said, ‘I thought you’d retired!’ And I said, ‘I didn’t retire from going to church!’
“Last week any time anyone saw me in the office they said, ‘I thought you retired!’” continued Volpe. “And I said, ‘I’m just a figment of your imagination. I’ve been around so long you think I’m still here.’”