November 17, 2006

Speaker says Catholic schools develop faith, God-given abilities

1,100 people attend Celebrating Catholic Schools Values dinner

Kate O’Beirne offers her insights about Catholic education at the annual Celebrating Catholic Schools Values awards dinner. (Photo by Rich Clark)

Photo caption: Kate O’Beirne offers her insights about Catholic education at the annual Celebrating Catholic Schools Values awards dinner. (Photo by Rich Clark)

By John Shaughnessy

With her sense of humor, Kate O’Beirne drew smiles and laughs as she recalled some of the funny quirks and moments that linger in the memories of most people who have attended Catholic schools.

“Our uniforms were a great equalizer,” O’Beirne said. “We all looked dumpy.”

With her sense of perspective, the keynote speaker at the archdiocese’s 11th annual celebration of Catholic education drew knowing nods and thoughtful expressions when she talked about the influence she gained from attending Catholic schools from kindergarten through law school.

“Cliques were discouraged—we learned to be kind to each other,” said O’Beirne, the Washington editor of National Review magazine. “We learned stories about ordinary people who did extraordinary things for the love of God. Our heroes weren’t from Hollywood. They weren’t sports superstars. They were the saints whose stories inspired a youthful resolve to emulate them.

“Through those stories, our hearts were won, and as we learned more about the tenets of our faith, our minds followed. We came to respect effort and order. We were taught that life is hard, others had sacrificed on our behalf and that suffering has meaning. I think we drew strength from the sacrifice of Catholics long ago—who exemplified faith and hope and charity.”

The message struck a chord with the more than 1,100 people from across central and southern Indiana who attended the event—Celebrating Catholic School Values: 2006 Scholarship and Career Achievement Awards Dinner.

The Nov. 8 fundraiser at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis—which honored five Catholic school graduates who have had notable careers—added a preliminary estimate of $395,000 to the $3.1 million that the annual dinner already had raised to provide tuition assistance for disadvantaged students who want to attend archdiocesan schools.

“Of course, all of this effort to provide scholarships couldn’t bear fruit without the work of the many dedicated parents, teachers, administrators, clergy and alums who give so much of themselves every day in caring for our children and making sure that our Catholic schools are providing the best education possible,” Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein told the crowd.

While the archbishop’s words showed how many groups are needed to educate a child, the results of that commitment were provided by Annette “Mickey” Lentz, executive director of Catholic education and faith formation for the archdiocese.

“Our students continue to improve on the state ISTEP [Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress tests], outperforming the state average by 16 to 31 percent,” Lentz said. “Our Catholic high school graduation rates exceed 98 percent. Ninety-five percent of Catholic high school graduates in the archdiocese attend college. And the likelihood of urban Catholic school students attending college is three to seven times higher than that of their counterparts in other schools.”

Lentz also noted that the U.S. Depart-ment of Education has “recognized the outstanding job that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis does in educating students by awarding Catholic schools in the archdiocese 30 Blue Ribbon awards since 1985.”

Another important dimension of a Catholic education was stressed by the chairperson of the celebration, William S. Sahm.

“Our schools promote Gospel values that run counter to the culture of our time and offer students the support of an entire community to live out these values,” noted Sahm, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis. “This occurs in the classrooms, at weekday Masses, on retreats, through service projects, participating in extracurricular activities and even social events.”

While the annual event seeks to raise money to help children with their futures, this year’s celebration also offered a distinct nod to the past—focusing on the roots of Catholic education in the archdiocese, particularly the example of the woman who recently became Indiana’s first saint and just the eighth saint from the United States.

The celebration included a video tribute to St. Theodora Guérin, who came to Indiana in 1840 and founded the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

“St. Theodora is truly a gift from God to the universal Church, and that is a special joy for our archdiocese,” Archbishop Buechlein said. “When Mother Theodore arrived in the wilderness of Indiana in 1840, she quickly set out to begin opening schools throughout the diocese. It was part of her vision right from the beginning that a Catholic education should be available to anyone who desired it, regardless of their economic status or religious background.”

St. Theodora’s vision of the difference a Catholic education can make shines through the lives of the five individuals who were honored at this year’s event.

Edward J. Fillenwarth Jr. was honored for his emphasis on social justice and his commitment to Catholic values as a lawyer who has represented working people throughout his career. A member of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, he is currently a board member of Witness for Peace in Washington, D.C.

Father Joseph Kern was cited for his commitment to Catholic education during 50 years as a priest. Retired now, he continues to serve as the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery, calling his years as a priest “a very joyful and rewarding life for me.”

Robert Koetter Jr. was honored for using his faith and his family-owned business to make a difference in Catholic education. A member of St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish in Floyds Knobs, he has helped nearly every parish and Catholic school in the New Albany Deanery, particularly Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville.

Tanya Walton Pratt was recognized for her contributions to the community, including her work as a Marion County Superior Court judge. A member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, she tries to balance the demands for justice with the concern for others that she views as one of the hallmarks of her faith.

Alecia A. DeCoudreaux received the Community Service Award, honoring her commitment to diversity, the underprivileged and the concerns of women and girls. A member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, she is vice president and general counsel for Lilly USA.

The lives of the award winners exemplified the tribute to Catholic schools that keynote speaker O’Beirne made near the end of her speech.

“We graduates of Catholic schools owe them a large debt because they guided the development of our faith and of our God-given abilities,” O’Beirne said. “Their lessons were the essence of moral

clarity—that God created and loved us, that he died for our sins, and that we were here to know, love and serve him.” †

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