Rudolph Francis Vollmer, O.P.
Father Rudolph Francis Vollmer was born in Northfield, Rice Co., Minnesota on September 5, 1893. Educated in the grammar and high schools of Northfield and Graceville, Minn.; Aquinas College, Columbus, Ohio; St. Joseph's Priory, Somerset, Ohio; St. Rose Priory, near Springfield, Kentucky; the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C. He also attended the Catholic University, Washington, D.C.
He entered the novitiate in 1921, taking the religious name of Francis. He was professed on August 24, 1922. He was ordained at St. Dominic’s Church, Washington D.C., on June 21, 1928, by Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, rector of the Catholic University.
Father Francis came to the Order from a rather varied background. He was a widower, and a convert from the Anglican Church. He was a first lieutenant in World War I.
Upon the completion of his studies, Father Francis taught at the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, Illinois, 1929-1934. For the following six years, 1934-1940, he worked among the black population at St. Monica's parish, Raleigh, North Carolina.
In 1940, he was assigned to a teaching post at Aquinas College High School, Columbus, where he spent many years until the school itself was closed in 1965. In his later years, Father Francis was in the parochial apostolate, chiefly at Holy Name parish in Philadelphia. It was there that he died on November 6, 1971.He is buried in the Dominican plot at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA.
The 1962 Aquinian yearbook adds further insight into this extraordinary priest. After secondary school, he took a business course in Little Falls, Minnesota, and then worked in the mercantile business with his father. On June 7, 1916, Father Vollmer was married, but his wife died on February 7, 1917. The following month he was received into the Catholic Church, and received his first Holy Communion on St. Patrick’s Day, 1917.
While at Aquinas, he taught Commercial Art, typing, drafting, Religion, and Business Mathematics. He studied Industrial Arts at Ohio State University, and then taught a course in Ceramics. His favorite hobby was grinding stones which he collected on his summer trips around the country.
Even those of us who never had him in class recognized him as a very gentle and humble priest. As a Confessor, he was known to every student. He administered the Sacrament of Penance with few words, and a standard penance of five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys. Some students thought he was deaf because he never rebuked them, or made them feel ill at ease. Father Vollmer imparted absolution, as God’s representative, with humility and understanding.
I remember one student retreat where his confessional line had everyone in it. The other 3 priests had literally no one. Fr. Crombie made 150 students move out of Fr. Vollmer’s line to the vacant spaces for the 3 other priests. Fr. Crombie was afraid the retreat would be delayed, but I think he was a little embarrassed that the students wanted to go only to Fr. Vollmer. Being teenagers, the students were afraid of the penances and, perhaps, pointed observations they would receive from the other priests. I remember I got placed in Fr. John R. Smith’s line. It was the first time I could remember Fr. Smith hearing our confessions. I admit that when I realized that “Frog” was going to hear my confession, I sweated bullets. However, he was a very compassionate confessor.
Father Vollmer was stationed at St. Patrick’s after he left Aquinas. One New Year’s morning there were over a couple hundred people who came for what had been the traditional 5 AM Mass. Only St. Pat’s had cancelled it that year. Someone went to the rectory and awakened Fr. Vollmer. He opened the church, and said the Mass. No ushers were available, so some people just got the collection baskets and took up the two collections --one for the pew rent, and one for the offertory. The baskets were nearly overflowing with dollar bills from a grateful but groggy congregation. Fr. Vollmer’s homily to the bleary-eyed congregation was very short. He simply wished everyone a Happy and Blessed New Year from all the Dominican Fathers, and then went on with Mass. Even with no help at the Communion, Father Vollmer made it a 30-minute Mass for a very appreciative congregation.
In 1968, before they flew off to the Rose Bowl Game, nearly all the Catholics from the Ohio State football team went to Fr. Vollmer for Confession. Led by Brad Neilsen (RIP), who had attended Aquinas, but transferred after his junior year, Fr. Vollmer was the drawing card Neilsen had used to help these future National Champions get back into God’s graces before the flight to California.
I noticed that Fr. Smith seemed to protect Fr. Vollmer who seemingly had the patience of Job. One class put a typewriter cover over Fr. Vollmer’s head while he was demonstrating proper typing techniques. Fr. Vollmer never said a word, and just kept on typing. Unfortunately for the students, Fr. Smith was passing the typing room and saw their actions. Fr. Smith handed out swift justice, and then the students took the cover off the still-typing Fr. Vollmer, and apologized to him. He was hard of hearing, but not deaf, and definitely not stupid, just kindly. The other priests called him Rudy, and in our hearts “Rudy” will always be remembered.
Thomas Aquinas Burke - Class of 1963
Aquinas College High School
November 25, 2003
Thanks to Father Richard Ambrose McAlister, O.P. - Class of 1952 for the obituary, and special thanks for his advice and prayers.
The following was received on June 6, 2017
Fr. Vollmer was my uncle. We knew him as Uncle Rudolph as children during the 1950's. Somewhere along the line in future years he became affectionately known to us as Unc's/ UncaRudy/ UncaFaddaOP! We really loved him. He came for a visit every summer throughout our childhood and youth. He served the parish of Saint Raphael near our New Hope, Minnesota home anytime he visited. He took long drives during his summers, and took extraordinary photographs which he shared with us. We learned from him through his photography about the wondrous Rocky Mountains, the desert southwest, & Northfield MN., and of his teaching
experiences, among which was a population of prison inmates to whom he taught art, typing, drafting, leather tooling, reading,... we kids began to learn these
same skills during his summer and Christmas visits.
He sustained me with many letters as I attended Loras College, and later on while I was in the US Air Force. Most of the gifts he gave me and my brothers and sister were educational. As a 4-6 year old he taught us how to make a bunny puppet with a handkerchief. I have made bunnies the same way for my grandchildren. They love it 'just like me'
to steal a phrase from 'The Marvelous Toy' sung by Tom Paxton. We, my siblings and I, learned a lot from Unc's. He was a mainstay in our family. He was famous
among our Saint Raphael families for his Christmas Eve midnight mass. One Christmas Eve we arrived at Saint Raphael, only two blocks from home, at 11:45 and there had been no snow. We prayed for snow in that Mass. As we left the church at 12:30 am it was snowing huge lovely flakes which by morning breakfast was more than 9" deep. Thanks for the positive prayer outcome Uncle Rudolph!
Too many stories to tell here. We sang, we played, it was a golden childhood and youth we had. When Rudy died we had recently lost our brother Jack in Vietnam 1966, our father Bill in 1971, a young cousin Tim in 1971, my mother's older
sister Margaret in 1969. Finding Rudy's story on your website brought back volumes of memories of my early life. I am 71 now and treasure those memories. Thank you so much! All the best, Mike Bailey, santamikeb@ yahoo.com .