October 12, 2007

Education awards to honor those who make a difference

By John Shaughnessy

At the heart of Catholic education is the belief that a focus on faith and values will shape the life of a person—and that person will then shape the world for the better.

On Nov. 7, five individuals who live that belief will be honored during the archdiocese’s Celebrating Catholic School Values: Scholarship and Career Achievement Awards dinner.

The 12th annual event—which has raised $3.5 million to support need-based education scholarships—will honor Philip Carson, Mary Helen Eckrich, Michael Hudson, Father Todd Riebe and William Wood.

Here is a glimpse into their lives and the way their Catholic education has helped them make a difference in the world.

Mary Helen Eckrich

Here’s one story that will help people understand the love that Mary Helen Eckrich gave to Catholic school children through five decades as a teacher and a counselor:

One of her former students had suffered the tragedy that no child should endure. First, his mother died. Then his father died. When Eckrich learned about the death of the boy’s father, the mother of seven children went to the funeral home and told the parish priest that she had room in her home for the boy.

“The next day, Kevin was knocking on our door,” recalls Eckrich, who’s now 77. “He’s still one of our kids.”

A number of former students feel that they’re “one of the kids” of Eckrich, who began teaching at Holy Name School in Beech Grove in the 1960s and retired from Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in ­Indianapolis in 2005.

Eckrich has also been a volunteer religious education teacher for 19 years. And she and her husband of 59 years, Matt—“my gift from God,” she says—have been involved in a parish Pre-Cana marriage preparation program for engaged couples for 20 years.

“I wanted my children—and other children I would be fortunate enough to teach—to know that God really loves them. And it’s a love that’s never going to go away,” says Eckrich, who considers herself to be a member of two Indianapolis parishes, St. Barnabas and St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower).

“I was always trying to learn how to live the message of Jesus—what he came to teach us about how to really love another. I’m still attempting to learn how to do that. God has blessed me in so many ways.”

Father Todd Riebe

The power of God’s influence once again dawned on Father Todd Riebe when he was sent as a missionary priest to the Sudan in Africa in 1985.

“I thought I was going to be in a parish out in the bush,” Father Riebe recalls. “The day I arrived, the archbishop told me I was to be the principal of a Catholic high school. I was devastated. After a week, I learned that God knew better than I. The school, the students and the parents became my parish.”

Father Riebe had a similar experience shortly after he arrived in Richmond in 1995 to lead the parishes of St. Mary, St. Andrew and Holy Family. A group of parents greeted him by asking him about creating a Catholic high school in that eastern Indiana city.

“God just kept giving it to me,” Father Riebe says with a laugh.

Seton Catholic High School opened in 2002. His commitment to Catholic education is stronger than ever.

“Catholic schools not only give a first-class education, they also give formation for life,” he says. “Everyone picks up a world view one way or another. Now, more often than not in today’s society, that world view is opposed to the message of the Gospel that Jesus proposes.

“A Catholic school presents a counter-culture that kids get seven hours a day in school. At the very heart of that is that God is a part of our lives. God is a part of who we are, now and in the future. When that’s coupled with what they hear at home, that can have a powerful impact on kids.

“I’m just a firm believer in Catholic education. People sometimes say, ‘Can we afford to do this?’ I say, ‘Can we afford not to offer our kids this formation?’ ”

William Wood

At 79, William Wood is mostly retired from his law practice, but the few clients he still represents reveal a great deal about his faith and his passion.

“I still work for the Indiana Catholic Conference and the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Indianapolis,” Wood says. “I just enjoy the legislative work so much with the Conference—representing the Church on legislative and public affairs matters. We try to whittle away at the death penalty, and we’re always vigilant against bills that would make abortion easier. We also push bills to assist people in poverty and those who are underrepresented in society.”

Wood credits his concern for others to the Catholic education he received at St. Joan of Arc School in Indianapolis, the school where he first met the girl who is now his wife of 53 years, Joann. He brags that Joann has volunteered at the crisis office of Catholic Charities ­Indianapolis for at least 45 years, trying to help people in need while guiding the lives of their eight children.

“In school, we learned the importance of charity and reaching out to people,” says Wood, who also served as an attorney for the archdiocese from 1975 to 2005.

The religious brothers and sisters who taught him also gave him a love for the Eucharist, he says, a love he still shows as a eucharistic minister.

“I still get a spiritual rush every time I distribute Communion at church,” says the member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis. “To see the lines of people coming forward—the little kids, the teenagers, the married couples with babies, older people—it’s wonderful to see all those people come to receive Jesus.”

Philip Carson

In times of stress, or moments when he feels he’s over­reacting to a situation, Philip Carson tries to rely upon the advice he receives from his wife of 26 years, Teri.

“She always reminds me of three simple words, ‘Give it up’—to God,” Carson says. “When things get frustrating, she can bring me back. It shows her strong faith. She’s helped me get a lot better because of the values and faith I see in her.”

Trying to follow the example of strong, faith-filled people is one characteristic that has marked his life, Carson says. As one of nine children of Al and Dorothy Carson, he said he has just tried to mirror their dedication to Catholic education in his efforts to help and support St. Christopher Parish, Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School and Marian College, all in Indianapolis.

“When they called about this award, I said our parents are the ones who should be honored because they sacrificed to give us Catholic education,” says Carson, 48, a member of St. Christopher Parish. “The sacrifices my parents made showed us how important Catholic education and our Catholic faith are.

“When it came down to choosing Catholic education for our four kids, Teri and I felt it was important to give them that Catholic faith, to see it every day, to live it every day.”

Carson keeps his faith in mind even as he runs five miles a day, six days a week.

“Every day when I run, I go through each of the Commandments one by one to remind me. It helps clear the soul. I make mistakes every day. And I try to go through it every day. It’s my motivation to make myself better.”

Michael Hudson

It seems especially fitting that Michael Hudson will be honored at this year’s award celebration. After all, he chaired the first Celebrating Catholic School Values dinner in 1996.

“It’s quite impressive to see how momentum has been gained through the hard work of the volunteers and the people of the archdiocese, too,” says Hudson, a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis. “Monsignor [Joseph F.] Schaedel and the archbishop [Daniel M. Buechlein] have been very involved in the process.”

As someone who grew up around the oil fields of Texas, the 67-year-old Hudson knows the riches that can spring from the development of a valued commodity. Now the chief executive officer of an energy systems company, he has seen a similar value grow from the archdiocese’s commitment to providing Catholic education to students in center-city schools.

“I’m not a sociologist, but there are three things we build the strength of a community on,” he says.

“One is the school system, one is the family and one is the Church. I think the center-city Catholic schools have provided the cohesiveness in building a community. Families feel that, when they have some money involved in the schools, they should be part of the process. Parents become more involved in their children’s education. Over the years, we’ve also seen how the Church provides additional services to those families. I think we’re significantly strengthening some of those families.” †


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