October 20, 2006

Catholic School Values awards to honor those who make a difference

By John Shaughnessy

At the heart of Catholic education is the belief that the emphasis on faith and values will make a difference in the life of a person—and that person will then make a difference in the world.

On Nov. 8, five individuals who live that belief will be honored during the archdiocese’s Celebrating Catholic School Values: Scholarship and Career Achievement Awards dinner.

The 11th annual event—which has raised more than $3.1 million to support need-based education scholarships—will honor Alecia DeCoudreaux, Edward Fillenwarth Jr., Father Joseph Kern, Robert Koetter Jr. and Tanya Walton Pratt.

Here is a glimpse into their lives, the way Catholic education has influenced them and the way they have influenced the world.

Tanya Walton Pratt

As a judge of criminal cases involving murder, rape and other major felonies, Tanya Walton Pratt often receives reminders of the importance of her Catholic education.

In those cases, the Indianapolis judge also tries to balance the demands for justice with the concern for others that she views as one of the hallmarks of her faith.

Both qualities surfaced in Pratt’s recent handling of a case involving a 20-year-old man who entered a store and pointed a gun at the employees in a robbery attempt.

When the employees hit a silent alarm and police responded, the would-be robber turned the gun toward the police officers. The young man was shot five times by the officers, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

“He had never been in trouble before,” said Pratt, a Marion County Superior Court judge. “One poor decision can change your life forever.”

The judge says Catholic education changed her life for the better.

“My Catholic education has made me appreciate all the benefits and opportunities I’ve had,” said the member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis. “I’ve seen a lot of people who’ve come before my court who didn’t have the opportunities I did. But for the grace of God, I could be one of them. My parents made the sacrifice so I could have a Catholic education, so I could have the morals and values as well as the quality education.”

Pratt used her education and values as she sentenced the young man for an offense that required him to spend at least six years in prison.

“I had to send him to prison, but I talked to him at the sentencing hearing,” Pratt recalled. “I told him his life was

not over. He could still be a productive citizen. Part of his sentencing is to talk to youths and students about the consequences of his actions.”

Edward Fillenwarth Jr.

At 59, Edward Fillenwarth Jr. began running with his grown children as one more way of staying connected to them. Eight years and 15 marathons later, Fillenwarth still leads his life in new directions.

For most of his career, the father of seven worked as a lawyer representing working people.

“I’ve been influenced tremendously by the encyclicals on social justice,” Fillenwarth said. “There are about five or six that talk about social justice and about treating people fairly and justly—even to the extent of saying that everybody who works for a living not only has a right to support their family, but has a right to a reasonable amount for savings. So you have dignity as a human being.”

That emphasis on human dignity has led to a new focus for the grandfather of 17, who is a graduate of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) School in Indianapolis, Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis and the University of Notre Dame.

He is now a national board member of Witness for Peace, a Washington-based organization whose mission is to support peace, justice and sustainable economies in the Americas.

“[My wife] Val and I have developed a deep concern for the ever-increasing number of poor and disadvantaged

people in this country and throughout the world,” said Fillenwarth, a member of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis. “This gives me an opportunity to carry the goals I’ve had all my life into another area as a volunteer.

“The Sisters of St. Francis who taught me at Scecina and Little Flower have been a big influence in my life. They taught me the principles of

honesty, dignity and integrity.”

Father Joseph Kern

After 50 years as a priest, Father Joseph Kern knows the great influence that teachers can have on children and children can have on teachers.

Father Kern remembers the influence that his parents and teachers at St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis had on him as he began thinking about becoming a priest.

“I was a server there, starting at the end of the fourth grade, and I became very interested in the Mass,” said Father Kern, a retired priest who continues as the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery. “Family, church and school were all important in my decision. Catholic schools can be very influential in giving an atmosphere for a vocation to develop.”

Father Kern’s concern for

children eventually shaped his approach as a priest to all people. As a young priest, he earned a master’s degree in special education, putting it to use as a chaplain at a state hospital, where he often worked with mentally handicapped children from 1965 through 1972.

“Some were mentally ill. A lot were physically disabled, too,” he recalled. “Some were disfigured or deformed in some way. They were developmentally slow, but they could have beautiful personalities. One thing I learned from that was to look past the exterior to the interior with everybody.”

That philosophy has guided him ever since.

“Try to see the person as a child of God, a human being. Wherever I’ve been, I look at people as the people of God. The experience at that hospital was a good experience that helped me as a priest. Being a priest has been a very

joyful and rewarding life for me.”

Robert Koetter Jr.

Robert Koetter Jr. is known as a “guardian angel” in the southern part of the archdiocese—someone who quietly and humbly takes care of things that need to be done, all in the service of God.

“Everyone knows him as a businessman, but he also has a very strong sense of faith and family,” said Ray Day, the director of development for Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville. “He includes Providence in his family.”

As president of Koetter Construction Inc., he recently helped to build and support a new performing arts center and

athletic facilities at Providence—just part of the way that he and his four brothers use their family-owned business to make a difference to Catholic education.

“The last thing I wanted to do was go out and ask people for money,” Koetter recalled about the capital campaign. “Now after doing it and seeing the joy and appreciation of the students, faculty and staff, it’s very rewarding.”

Still, Koetter points out that his recognition on Nov. 8 is not just for him. “This award represents not only my work, but the work of the entire family.”

Koetter often speaks of the importance of Catholic education in his life, reflecting on his time as a student at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs School in Floyd County and Providence High School.

“The biggest thing I like about Catholic education is that it teaches the same values and principles my parents taught me in my life,” Koetter said.

“He is a very spiritual person,” Day said. “He is such a believer in the Catholic aspect of life as a teenager and how it molded him as a teenager. He comments frequently about the difference that time at Providence made in his life. He’s a gentle giant in a lot of ways, a giant who is always trying to help others.”

Alecia DeCoudreaux

The letter from the young woman gave Alecia DeCoudreaux a sense of

satisfaction as she read it. The note thanked DeCoudreaux for the scholarship she made possible for minority women—a scholarship that helped the young woman attend the same law school where DeCoudreaux earned her law degree.

The sense of satisfaction for DeCoudreaux came from knowing she was following a family tradition.

“I don’t think I’ve done anything that I haven’t seen my mother do or my grandmothers do,” said the member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis. “I don’t come from a family that had a lot, but we shared. All I do is try to do what they did.”

She is vice president and general counsel for Lilly USA. She is also known for her commitment to diversity, the underprivileged, and the concerns of women and girls. She was involved in starting Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, an organization that strives to better the lives of females.

“This is an organization that just celebrated its 10th anniversary,” she said. “In the early days, we understood that the needs of women and girls in our community were not being adequately addressed. We understood there were additional dollars needed to meet that need. If you strengthen women and girls, you strengthen entire families.”

She said the qualities of self-discipline, self-respect and respect for others—the qualities that guide her life—were formed during her 12 years of Catholic education in Chicago.

“Clearly, the foundation I received in the first 12 years of my education is the foundation of my life,” she said. “It’s helped me in everything I’ve done. In today’s world, we’re faced with ethical challenges on a daily basis. The ethical foundation that began in my home was continued in Catholic education—what was right and what was wrong. That’s helped me in my career.” †


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