Sister Donna bids so long to Little Flower

Sister Donna has been at Little Flower for 27 years, including 18 as president, but her time at the school is coming to an end.

Sister Donna Shallo, IHM arrived at Little Flower High School in 1991, and it didn’t take her long to come to love the place.

Sister Donna taught a class and was Little Flower’s activities director when, in 1992, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia decided the school would close the following June.

On the eve of open enrollment, the archdiocese believed that there was no way enough girls would trek to 10th and Lycoming streets to keep the school afloat. That’s when the alumnae became engaged.

“The alumnae came out of the woodwork,” Sister Donna recalled. “It takes money to run a school and offer scholarships. They gave. They were very generous. That’s the beauty of the Little Flower graduate. Our alumnae saved the school and are saving the school.”

The Little Flower community also credits the school’s patroness, St. Therese, with helping to keep it open. Today, each Monday, a red rose is placed at the St. Therese statue in the hallway.

Sister Donna has been at Little Flower for 27 years, including the last 18 as president, but her time at the school is coming to an end.

Last November, she announced this would be her last year.

“I’m 71. I feel my work is finished,” she said. “I didn’t want to drop the bomb in May. I wanted everything in place.”

Sister Donna’s last day will be June 27. She is not retiring, merely stepping away from the grueling and challenging job of raising money to keep a Catholic high school alive at a time when neighborhoods are changing, people are having fewer kids, charter schools are becoming a real option and tuition is rising.

Her new assignment will be secretary for the Immaculata branch of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She’s looking forward to the assignment, but acknowledges she might have some mixed feelings come September.

“I’ll miss not being with the students,” she said. “I’m passionate about this school. The first day of school will be an adjustment.”

Sister Donna grew up in Phoenixville. She attended the old Bishop Kenrick High School in Norristown, and entered the convent after graduation. She took her vows at age 21, celebrating her 50-year anniversary in April.

“It’s been a big year,” she said.

Sister Donna spent 12 years teaching elementary school, including a stint at St. Anselm. She taught for seven years at St. Maria Goretti, especially enjoying the opportunity to teach girls she previously had in her classroom at St. Gabriel, St. Monica and St. Edmond in South Philadelphia.

From 1987–91, she taught at Archbishop Ryan before the move to LF.

“I enjoyed teaching. There’s an opportunity to really connect,” she said.

Sister Donna came to enjoy her time outside the classroom.

“I fell in love with Little Flower,” she said.

Today, Little Flower has 525 students. More than 200 of the girls come from the Northeast. The biggest contingent at the school comes from the 19111 ZIP code, home to 80 girls. There are 112 “legacy daughters,” girls whose moms graduated from the school.

Tuition and fees next year will be a relatively low $8,050, the lowest in the archdiocese.

Seven SEPTA routes drop off the girls either at the front or back door in time for first bell at 7:55 a.m., and Sister Donna wants parents to know their daughters will be safe in the Hunting Park neighborhood.

“It’s door-to-door service,” she said.

Sister Donna described Little Flower as a college prep school that educates girls who get accepted by Ivy League schools. She’s proud of the class of 2018 for amassing some $24 million in scholarships. In her 27 years at LF, she’s sensed that the girls love their school.

“Little Flower is renowned for its school spirit,” she said.

In 2019, Little Flower will celebrate its 80th anniversary. The school has more than 35,000 graduates.

The board of directors has selected Jeane McNamara, former president of Villa Maria Academy in Malvern, to replace Sister Donna, who believes her successor will do just fine.

“Little Flower is a very welcoming environment,” she said.

Sister Donna thanked parents, especially those with multiple children, for sacrificing to put their kids in Catholic school.

The outgoing president would love the state to pass a vouchers bill, but credits state Rep. John Taylor and former Gov. Tom Ridge with approving the next-best thing, programs that give tax credits to individuals and businesses who make contributions to scholarship organizations.

“I’m so grateful for that. It’s a huge help,” she said.

Sister Donna is known as a people person who tries to send thank you notes and birthday cards and make phone calls to donors.

“I keep praying that a lottery winner is a Little Flower graduate,” she joked.

Last week, the school held a reception for Sister Donna at Blue Bell Country Club. She was overwhelmed by the turnout and kind words, and was glad to see graduates from 1941, ’42 and ‘43.

Sister Donna will be at St. Matthew Church for Thursday night’s baccalaureate Mass and Holy Family University for Friday afternoon’s graduation, then await the final day of school and her last day on the job. She’ll have fond memories of her 27 years at Little Flower.

“It’s a wonderful place.” ••