October 20, 2006

Go and Make Disciples / John Valenti

‘Woodsies’ and the black onyx ring

That ring! The black onyx emblem of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Graduates, “Woodsies” they are called, wear it proudly and never hesitate for a moment to talk about what it means to them.

“I value it, but also want to share it … as long as I get it back,” said graduate Mickey Lentz, executive director of Catholic Education and Faith Formation. “I want people to see it and enjoy it as much as I do. It’s amazing the places I have been where I found someone wearing it.”

While vacationing in Las Vegas, Lentz caught a glimpse of the icon on the finger of a fellow “Woodsie” at Mass. She was the eucharistic minister. “They are everywhere!” Lentz said.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is one of the oldest institutions of higher education for women in the United States. The college is associated with the Sisters of Providence and was founded in 1841 by Mother Theodore Guérin.

In October 1998, Pope John Paul II bestowed the title “Blessed” on Mother Theodore. Pope Benedict XVI canonized her a saint on Oct. 15 in Rome.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College holds an annual ceremony where juniors receive black onyx rings signifying their bond to the institution. As “Woodsies” walk off the stage after receiving their ring, most alumni realize it’s more than just a pretty object.

The oak leaves are symbolic of the knowledge gained at The Woods, the six acorns are symbolic of the founders and the insignia carved in black onyx serves as a reminder that those who wear the gold and onyx are educated women guided by “virtus cum scientia,” knowledge and strength united.

“As a Catholic educator, I feel like I’ve gone the extra mile and was able to achieve something special. It gives me hope and confidence in what I have been able to accomplish,” Lentz said. “It constantly reminds me of a very good experience at a place I feel like I belong. I am very proud to wear the ring, not only because it’s beautiful, but because of the integrity it represents and shows forth in our graduate’s identity.”

Lentz completed her Saint Mary’s education through the Woods External Degree (WED) Program, a distance education program which started in 1973.

“Very innovative for the time and one of the first of its kind in the nation,” Lentz noted. Today, Saint Mary of-the-Woods offers more than 30 majors through the WED format.

“It is something to aspire toward and the ring is symbolic of that,” Lentz said. “At first, I bought the pendant, but went back for the ring when I could afford one.

“You can’t help but notice the ring, especially at meetings,” she added. “I find myself looking at other people’s fingers. Many who have noticed my ring ask me, ‘Are you a nun?’ ”

(John Valenti is associate director of evangelization and faith formation for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. E-mail him at jvalenti@archindy.org. For a more in-depth version of this story, go to

goandmakedisciples.blogspot.com.) †

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