September 20, 2013

Catholic school values are at the heart of award recipients who make a difference

By John Shaughnessy

One of the common qualities of people whose Catholic values shape their commitment to others is how they prefer to talk about the people who have influenced them—and the people who they believe do so much more than them.

So Sarah Lechleiter praises the Little Sisters of the Poor at St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis, where her longtime volunteer efforts have included making beds for residents.

“There is no greater beauty than the work they do,” she says. “I learned about sheer love there, with no questions asked.”

And John Lechleiter focuses on his sister who bucked the odds and the naysayers to start from scratch a Catholic high school in a South Carolina community that is “not exactly a Catholic bastion”—a school that is now thriving in its efforts to offer a Catholic education.

And Dr. David Wolf talks about growing up in a poor family and how two parish priests were among the mentors who taught him “to set high standards, set goals and never give up.”

And Julie Bowers raves about her grandmother, the youngest of 18 children, who kept living her faith and serving others into her 90s.

Yet while all four individuals seek to steer the spotlight away from themselves, they will be honored during the Celebrating Catholic School Values: Scholarship and Career Achievement Awards event in Indianapolis on Oct. 8.

Bowers and Wolf will receive Career Achievement Awards from the archdiocese while the Lechleiters are the recipients of this year’s Community Service Award.

Here is a glimpse of the four honorees and the difference they make to others. (Related: Tickets, sponsorships available for celebration of Catholic education)

Dr. David Wolf

Dr. David WolfDr. David Wolf never forgets the example his mother set for her children: “For my mom, going to church was just as important as having food on the table.”

He often thinks of all the people who helped him and his family when he was growing up—the parishioners who gave them clothes, the religious sisters who shared food, and the man who became like a father to him after his dad died.

“Growing up, the Church was there for us over and over,” Wolf recalls. “I was able to go to Catholic schools because of others. Now, I’m one of those others. I feel an obligation to help.”

He does it with a faith and a focus that he describes as “full throttle.”

He is a past president of the board of directors at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where he has been involved with the building of a new chapel, a fine arts center, the athletic stadium and an administrative wing.

He is a founding member of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, where he has done everything from coach basketball to lead baptism classes with his wife, Anne.

He set up a dental clinic in Haiti, volunteers as a dentist for poor children in Romania, and provides free dental care for people in need in Indianapolis and Greenwood. The list goes on.

“I don’t feel I’ve done anything special,” he says. “Anytime something has come up, I just feel this nudge from the Holy Spirit. It’s just a way of giving back. You see Christ in others.

“On mission trips, the most important part of the day is when we get together and see how Christ works in our lives. We were all born as God’s children, and sometimes we forget about that. We need to look out for each other. We need to share what God has given us with others.”

Wolf says those beliefs were ingrained in him through his Catholic education, a gift that he and his wife have shared with their three children.

“They get something different at a Catholic school. They get the reinforcement of the faith and how God is in their life. In good times and bad times, that faith will get you through anything. That constant reminder of Christ in your life is what makes Catholic education invaluable.”

Julie Bowers

Julie BowersOne story shows the impact that Julie Bowers had on the children that were the focus of her years as a Catholic educator.

“I had taught this student in first grade, and then he was a student when I was the principal,” Bowers recalls of her time at St. Patrick School in Terre Haute. “His mother withdrew him from our school one year because of financial reasons. About a year later, his grandfather called and said he really wanted him back in our school. Monsignor Larry Moran and I found some school funding to provide a scholarship for him.

“That was in the fourth grade. I mentored the boy a lot as he stayed through the eighth grade. When he graduated from high school, he sent me a letter and said he was going into education because of me. He’s now a senior in college, and he’s going to be a music education teacher. When he saw me recently, he gave me a big hug.”

She paused and added, “The small things you do—helping a little boy, finding money so a child can go to school—those are the little things that a principal does every day. Those are the things that matter.”

That story reflects a point made by one of the people who nominated Bowers for the Career Achievement Award: “Most of her work has been done inspiring and challenging youth.”

Besides her 17 years in Catholic education as a teacher and principal, the mother of two grown children has been a catechist, a youth group leader and a confirmation preparation leader at St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute. She has also been the coordinator of a capital campaign for the parish, and has served on its school commission and parish council.

Now, she is the “animator” of the strategic restructuring plan for the Terre Haute Deanery, helping the parishes there collaborate their ministries. Her efforts include a plan for St. Patrick School that “will ensure an affordable and accessible Catholic education to children in the deanery.”

Bowers has seen the way Catholic education has touched her life, and she wants that opportunity to continue for others.

“Working in Catholic education is not a career, it’s a vocation,” she says. “A vocation is something you do out of love for the Lord. What you do in service to him is a gift.”

John and Sarah Lechleiter

John and Sarah LechleiterJohn and Sarah Lechleiter believe that “the hand of God is in everything,” and part of their purpose in life is to extend God’s reach through their efforts.

“Living our life and living as people of faith are just integrated into who we are and what we try to do,” says John, the president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Eli Lilly & Co. in Indianapolis. “We try to be good spouses, good parents, good siblings and good friends. We try to give back to the community. We’ve been blessed with the ability to do more than we might have thought.”

Sarah adds, “I don’t know how other people manage their lives without their faith—and without knowing there is something greater than you are, that there’s a purpose for why you are here.”

Sarah’s purpose in life has included serving as a volunteer at the St. Augustine Home for the Aged, and with Birthline, an archdiocesan effort to help pregnant women in crisis and low-income young mothers who have recently given birth.

She also did just about everything a volunteer parent can during the years their three children attended St. Matthew School and Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, both in Indianapolis.

John has helped with the Boy Scouts, coached basketball and football in the Catholic Youth Organization and served on the board of education at St. Matthew and as the chairman of the board of trustees at Brebeuf.

Their involvement and influence also continue to make an impact on Xavier University in Cincinnati, Marian University in Indianapolis and Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis, as well as their home parish, St. John the Evangelist in Indianapolis.

The tight weave of promoting Catholic education and the Catholic faith binds their volunteer commitments.

“Catholic education was so strong in my life and in John’s life,” Sarah says. “As I grew older, I realized that many people didn’t have that amazing opportunity and grounding, and I realized my blessings. It’s helped our children become the people they are. So we couldn’t be more grateful.”

John nods and says, “It’s the interweaving of the sacramental aspects of our faith with our education. What comes out of all that is a value system, a belief system that is grounded in our Catholic faith. It’s something that’s had a long-term impact and influence that you feel over the years.

“It reinforces the importance of Catholic education—and the willingness that we all have to have to fight for it, sacrifice for it, and work to ensure that this can continue for future generations.” †

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