May 4, 2012

Making a difference

Spirit of Service recipients honored for their commitment to volunteerism, helping others

Two individuals, two married couples and two communities of religious sisters received Spirit of Service Awards during the April 26 dinner in Indianapolis. Award recipients, seated from left, are Pat Jerrell, Elaine Jerrell, St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration Sister M. Angela Mellady, Mary Pitzer and Fred Pitzer. Standing, from left, are award recipients William Spangler and Daughter of Charity Sister Catherine Kelly with Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, keynote speaker Allison Melangton and award recipient Tom Egold. (Photo by Rob Banayote)

Two individuals, two married couples and two communities of religious sisters received Spirit of Service Awards during the April 26 dinner in Indianapolis. Award recipients, seated from left, are Pat Jerrell, Elaine Jerrell, St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration Sister M. Angela Mellady, Mary Pitzer and Fred Pitzer. Standing, from left, are award recipients William Spangler and Daughter of Charity Sister Catherine Kelly with Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, keynote speaker Allison Melangton and award recipient Tom Egold. (Photo by Rob Banayote) Click for a larger version.

By John Shaughnessy

It was a short, touching story of faith, love and service in the middle of Allison Melangton’s speech about her experiences as president of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee.

Melangton shared the woman’s story to show the commitment of the thousands of volunteers who helped to make the Super Bowl in Indianapolis different from the 45 previous events—a Super Bowl that focused on community and service, including such efforts as improving 300 homes on the east side of Indianapolis and delivering 7,000 Super Bowl baskets to sick children at hospitals across the country.

The woman’s story involved a service project that Melangton was told was “crazy”—a project in which 13,000 scarves were made after she asked people from around the world to knit one for the Super Bowl volunteers who would greet visitors to Indianapolis.

“We asked people to turn in a note with the scarves,” Melangton said during her speech at the archdiocese’s Spirit of Service Awards dinner in Indianapolis on April 26.

“The note from one woman read, ‘This note was made during a tough time in my life. My husband was in the hospital for two months so while sitting at his bedside and praying for a recovery, I made this scarf. There were a lot of tears shed while knitting it. I have to say that he is at home now, and he’s getting stronger every day. Have fun while you are wearing my scarf outside in Indiana during the Super Bowl, and know it was made with real love.”

That note matched the theme of the awards dinner, an event that celebrated two individuals, two couples and two communities of religious sisters—and raised more than $163,000 to benefit Catholic Charities Indianapolis in its efforts to help the poor and the vulnerable.

“The people who served our Super Bowl cared about our project, they cared about Indianapolis and they cared about people,” Melangton said. “The human part of service is critical in so many ways. That’s why I am so excited to be a part of honoring folks with your Spirit of Service Award tonight. Because it makes a difference.”

Melangton also emphasized that her faith guided her during the four years of planning the Super Bowl event that drew overwhelming praise from visitors and media.

“If I didn’t have faith, I wouldn’t have survived the past four years,” she said. “What sustained me were the prayers I had from people, and the faith I had in all the volunteers and people who were working for us. Serving was what everyone wanted to do, and did so successfully.”

That approach to service also marks the efforts of Catholic Charities Indianapolis, according to its executive director, David Bethuram.

“Miracles take place at Catholic Charities for thousands of people each year,” Bethuram told the audience at the awards dinner. “Our emphasis lies in providing help to, and creating hope for, all of those whom we encounter—those who face homelessness, loneliness, disability, vulnerability and the far-reaching impact of a challenging economy.”

During the past two years, Catholic Charities Indianapolis has experienced a 30 percent increase in the number of people requesting help, Bethuram noted.

“We served 28,000 people in need of food, of whom 15,000 were children,” he said. “We provided more households with financial assistance to avoid disconnect of their utilities and possible eviction from their homes. We served 1,100 people in our emergency family shelter, and perhaps the most striking reality behind this number is the fact that this includes 600 homeless children.”

Serving more than 43,000 people overall, Bethuram said, was made possible through the “compassion and generosity” of Catholic Charities benefactors, staff and volunteers.

Those two qualities—compassion and generosity—are also evident in the recipients of this year’s Spirit of Service Awards.

Consider the life of Tom Egold.

For years, he volunteered at St. Barnabas Parish, Marian University and the Catholic Youth Organization, all in Indianapolis. There was even a moment when he thought he could step back from volunteering—a moment that lasted until Father John McCaslin told Egold about his vision to revive the struggling neighborhoods surrounding Holy Trinity and St. Anthony parishes in Indianapolis by forming an organization that would buy and rebuild homes so low-income families could purchase them.

Ever since, Egold has been a leading force in Hearts and Hands of Indiana, an organization that has already bought two vacant houses near Holy Trinity Parish for two families—with two more homes on the way.

“We’re all God’s children,” Egold said. “God has blessed us, and we have to give back.”

That belief has also guided Pat and Elaine Jerrell in their 40 years of marriage. Pat serves as president of the Indianapolis chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society while Elaine is the secretary of the all-volunteer organization that helps more than 100,000 people in need each year.

The couple has also been active in their faith community—St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis—where they have served on the leadership team of its Marriage Enrichment program and Christ Renews His Parish team, and as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. They have also been presenters for the archdiocesan Pre-Cana Conference for engaged couples.

“In a marriage relationship, you need time together,” Pat said. “But you also need to plug into something bigger than yourselves.”

Fred and Mary Pitzer share that same view of life. In 55 years of marriage, they have served as longtime volunteers at Hunger Inc., a south side Indianapolis program that provides food for the hungry.

For more than 20 years, the couple from St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis has worked on the parish’s funeral meal ministry, planning, preparing and serving food for funerals. They also lead the effort to prepare more than 400 pounds of “St. Mark’s Famous Barbecue” for the parish’s annual summer festival.

Fred has donated blood for 50 years while Mary has poured her heart into making quilts that raise money for the parish.

“You can’t live your life in a shell,” Fred said. “You have to be there for other people.”

William Spangler has embraced that approach to life, too. He has served as chairman of the board of Catholic Charities Indianapolis. He has volunteered on the board of Holy Family Shelter. And for 20 years, he has been a member of the Christian Social Action Mission at St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

At St. Luke, he was influential in helping the parish start an endowment of $250,000 designed to provide funds to help the poor.

“I really feel blessed because service has strengthened my faith immeasurably,” Spangler said. “We tend to think we need to be some tremendously gifted person to help others. But we all have the tools to do something for someone. Take that first step, and let God do the rest.”

That simple philosophy has guided the Daughters of Charity and Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration—the two religious orders that were honored with Spirit of Service Community Awards for their longstanding commitment to care for the sick and the poor at two Catholic hospitals in Indianapolis.

The Daughters of Charity founded St. Vincent Hospital in 1881, the year when four religious sisters came from Emmitsburg, Md., with $34.77 in their pockets—their seed money to build a hospital in Indianapolis.

“It’s our tradition to be Christ for the poor,” said Daughter of Charity Sister Catherine Kelly, vice president for mission integration at St. Vincent Health St. Joseph Hospital in Kokomo, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “We still go about doing what we have for 131 years.”

With the same belief in God’s Providence, two sisters from St. Francis Convent in Lafayette, Ind., traveled to Beech Grove by horse-drawn buggy in 1909 to talk about starting a hospital there. Five years later, St. Francis Hospital was opened.

“Our thoughts go to the many sisters and co-workers who have gone before us in the Indianapolis area to provide services to all those who come to our doors,” said Franciscan Sister M. Angela Mellady, provincial of the order.

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne greeted and saluted each of the award winners.

“It’s just a special event for us to honor them for all that they do,” said Bishop Coyne, apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.

Near the end of the celebration, he also praised all the people who support Catholic Charities and its commitment to be Christ to people in need.

“The support you give to Catholic Charities is just so amazing,” he said. “It means so much to the work that we do—to feed the hungry, to clothe those in need, to support the homeless and the new people in our midst. It’s all because of what you do, and the generosity of your hearts.” †

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