70 Years: Mary Leona Miller, SP (deceased)

70 Years: Mary Leona Miller, SP

Virginia Mary Miller

Mary Leona Miller, SP
For more than 47 years, Sister Mary Leona Miller began each school day with prayer, music, laughter and treats taped to the blackboard for correct answers to exercise questions. Her first graders blossomed, educationally and emotionally. It came as no surprise to others when she received the Outstanding Teacher in America award in 1975 and other honors. But Sister Mary Leona never seemed to realize her impact.

“She was a tremendous teacher,” said Sister Virginia Miller, a sibling eight years younger. “If there was something new, she was on top of it. She took workshops to stay current.” While Sister Mary Leona felt labeled as “just a first-grade teacher,” her work was the foundation for children’s lives, Sister Virginia added.

Sister Mary Leona was born in Glenwood, Minn., and moved with her family to Longview, Wash., at age 5. A public school student, she delighted in the weekly religion classes taught by the Sisters of Providence from Providence Academy in Vancouver, Wash. When the family hosted the sisters overnight on the third Saturday of each month, it planted a dream of becoming a sister herself in the young girl.

In Vancouver, she walked in Mother Joseph’s footsteps

She entered the religious community at Mount St. Vincent in 1938, but was sent home just short of profession due to illness. She reapplied a year later. “The day she was told she could come back, a depression lifted; she was a different person,” Sister Virginia recalled. After serving a second postulancy and a canonical year, Sister Mary Leona made profession in 1943. She became a teacher, later earning a degree in ten summers at the College of Great Falls (Mont).

For nearly five decades, Sister Mary Leona taught in Tacoma, Moxee, Yakima, Burbank and Vancouver, her longest tenure and her favorite as she walked in the footsteps of Mother Joseph. Sister Virginia remembers visiting her in the classroom, and how hard it was when the time came for Sister Mary Leona to retire in 1990, becoming the last teaching nun in Vancouver. “She called me, crying, and told me about her hard decision.” Sister Mary Leona became a volunteer tutor in the remedial room at St. Joseph School, Vancouver, and also a parish minister.

Today, at age 91, Sister Mary Leona still lives the classroom, talking about it and perking up whenever children come to the third floor of St. Joseph Residence in Seattle, where she resides. Her legacy is honored with a scholarship at Our Lady of Lourdes school in Vancouver.