Local Catholic school students get unique window into Supreme Court hearings

Carol Nesbitt

It’s not often that students have the opportunity to talk to someone making history on a national scale, but 8th grade students at Notre Dame Catholic School recently got to visit via Zoom with a woman who was part of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for the newly-appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett.  

Appellate attorney Laura Wolk, who is a good friend of Notre Dame 8th grade teacher Abbie Carter, spent an hour visiting with the students about everything from her work as an attorney and clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to her opportunity to testify during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings on behalf of Justice Barrett. She also addressed many questions from the students about the challenges she has faced as both a blind woman and as the very first blind person to serve as a clerk for the Supreme Court.   

Wolk was a student and mentee of Justice Barrett’s when she attended law school at the University of Notre Dame. She told the Notre Dame students how Justice Barrett helped her get the assistive technology she needed to compete on a level playing field with her sighted peers.  

Eighth grader Vy asked Wolk who had inspired her the most of anyone she’s met. Wolk shared that it would have to be Justice Thomas. He grew up very poor and during a time when segregation was still happening, and had every reason to feel like he didn’t belong, but he instead remained joyful and faith-filled; he never let negative things get in the way of his success and instead chose to be happy and positive.  

Wolk told the students how Justice Thomas believed that life can be amazing “when you allow joy and happiness to dominate your life” and that’s what she tries to do as well.  

Abbie Carter’s 8th grade class at Notre Dame Catholic School recently had the chance to have a virtual visit with Laura Wolk, an appellate attorney who testified on behalf of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett at her confirmation hearings. (Photos by Carol Nesbitt)

Student Nicholas asked Wolk what it felt like knowing she made a difference in history by participating in the nomination hearings. Wolk shared with the students how incredibly humbling it was for her, and how she’s received many messages from young people with disabilities or their parents about how she’s inspiring them. She says she didn’t have many role models with disabilities when she was growing up.  

Oliver asked Wolk what biggest attribute it takes to be successful. “It can be tempting to give up when things are tough,” said Wolk. She urged them to keep trying and to also remember that kindness is really essential.  

When Aliyah asked Wolk what advice she’d give to them as 8th graders, Wolk encouraged them to read lots of different kinds of books that introduce them to different kinds of experiences in the world and will be beneficial for their brains and vocabularies as well. 

After the call was over, Carter said she was thrilled to be able to offer her students this incredible opportunity to meet her dear friend. “I’m just so excited that the world has gotten to meet her,” she said.  

Student Oliver Valdez thought it was pretty cool to be able to have a conversation with her.  

“I think it’s special to meet someone so influential in history. She made history so that’s a cool thing to see,” he said. Oliver was amazed by Wolk and talked about how her disability has not brought her down but only made her stronger.  

Laura Wolk testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of Justice Barrett.

The biggest thing that stood out to student Cate Busche was when Wolk talked about people with disabilities, and how they often feel like that have to try harder than others – almost be the “best of the best” to be able to compete in a sighted world.  

“I’m glad she could represent others who are blind,” Busche said.   

Mrs. Carter says her students have been learning about the Supreme Court and the role of a Supreme Court justice, and how having her friend participate in the nomination process was such an incredible and wonderful coincidence.  

“It just all came together with what they’re learning in class with current events and was a ‘perfect storm of opportunities’ for them to be able to speak with her,” Carter said.  

The students watched Wolk give her testimony in front of the committee, which helped them form the questions they each asked her during the Zoom.  That testimony helped put fellow Catholic Amy Coney Barrett on the highest court in the nation – the United States Supreme Court. It was a wonderful opportunity for the Notre Dame students and their proud teacher to be witnessing history and talking to the woman who helped make it happen. 

Getting a little emotional, Carter said of her students and of her friend, “I am so incredibly proud of her, and I am so incredibly proud of them as a class. I hope that Laura has inspired them to never give up on their dreams of what they hope to achieve one day.”  

COMING UP: ‘I have seen the Lord’: St. Vincent de Paul’s new adoration chapel honors St. Mary Magdelene’s witness

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“I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18). 

One couple from St. Vincent de Paul parish took these words to heart with urgency last year during the pandemic and decided to build a Eucharistic Adoration chapel for their fellow faithful to be in the Lord’s presence themselves. 

Mike and Shari Sullivan donated design and construction of the new Eucharistic Adoration Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene adjacent to their parish church to make a space for prayer and adoration that they felt needed to be reinstated, especially during the difficult days of COVID-19. 

The chapel was completed this spring and dedicated during Divine Mercy weekend with a special blessing from Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. 

“It was invigorating to have the archbishop bless the chapel,” Mike said. “The church has been buzzing.” 

Mike has been a Catholic and a member of St. Vincent de Paul since his baptism, which he jokes was around the time the cornerstone was placed in 1951. The Sullivans’ five children all attended the attached school and had their sacraments completed at St. Vincent de Paul too. 

Archbishop Samuel Aquila dedicated the St. Mary Magdalene adoration chapel with a prayer and blessing at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church on April 9, 2021, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

The 26-by 40-foot chapel is a gift to fellow parishioners of a church that has meant so much to their family for decades, and to all who want to participate in prayer and adoration. 

The architect and contractor are both Catholic, which helped in the design of Catholic structure and the construction crew broke ground in mid-December. The Sullivans wanted to reclaim any Catholic artifacts or structural pieces they could for the new chapel. Some of the most striking features of the chapel are the six stained glass windows Mike was able to secure from a demolished church in New York. 

The windows were created by Franz Xaver Zettler who was among a handful of artists known for the Munich style of stained glass from the 19th century.  The Munich style is accomplished by painting detailed pictures on large pieces of glass unlike other stained-glass methods, which use smaller pieces of colored glass to make an image. 

The two primary stained-glass windows depict St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalene, the chapel’s namesake, and they frame either side of the altar which holds the tabernacle and monstrance — both reused from St.  Vincent De Paul church.  

The Sullivans wanted to design a cloistered feel for the space and included the traditional grill and archway that opens into the pews and kneelers with woodwork from St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. 

The chapel was generously donated by Mike and Shari Sullivan. The stained glass windows, which depict St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalene, were created by Franz Xaver Zettler, who was among a handful of artists known for the Munich style of stained glass from the 19th century. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Shari is a convert to Catholicism and didn’t grow up with the practice of Eucharistic adoration, but St. Vincent de Paul pastor Father John Hilton told her to watch how adoration will transform the parish. She said she knows it will, because of what regular Eucharistic adoration has done for her personally. 

The Sullivans are excited that the teachers at St. Vincent de Paul school plan to bring their classes to the warm and inviting chapel to learn about the practice of adoration and reflect on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

The words of St. Mary Magdalene “I have seen the Lord,” have become the motto of the chapel, Mike said, and they are emblazoned on a brass plaque to remind those who enter the holy space of Christ’s presence and the personal transformation offered to those inside.

The St. Vincent de Paul  Church and The Eucharistic Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene is located at 2375 E. Arizona Ave. Denver 80210 on the corner of Arizona and Josephine Street. The chapel is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Visit https://saintvincents.org/adorationchapel1 for more information about the chapel and to look for updates on expanded hours as they occur.