September 27, 2013

Parents establish mission endowment to honor daughter’s legacy

The family of Brooke Lahr holds up a portrait of her with children during a mission trip that she made to Honduras. The family photo was taken during a Sept. 15 gathering at Bellarmine University in Louisville, where Brooke attended college. Brooke’s parents have established a missionary endowment in their daughter’s memory. Pictured from left, Brooke’s brother, Anthony; her mother and father, Colleen and Mark; and her brother, Paul. (Photograph by Sarah Albritton of Serendipity Portraits )

The family of Brooke Lahr holds up a portrait of her with children during a mission trip that she made to Honduras. The family photo was taken during a Sept. 15 gathering at Bellarmine University in Louisville, where Brooke attended college. Brooke’s parents have established a missionary endowment in their daughter’s memory. Pictured from left, Brooke’s brother, Anthony; her mother and father, Colleen and Mark; and her brother, Paul. (Photograph by Sarah Albritton of Serendipity Portraits )

By Sean Gallagher

When Brooke Lahr died at age 25 on April 21 in Mexico after being struck as a pedestrian by a car, she seemed to have just scratched the surface of all that life had to offer and all that she had to offer to life.

But because of the vision of her parents, Mark and Colleen Lahr, Brooke’s love for life and service as a missionary will live on through an endowment established in her memory.

A member of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis and 2010 graduate of Bellarmine College in Louisville, Ky., Brooke dedicated most of the last three years of her life to volunteer service through Catholic mission ministries in Honduras and Mexico.

Whether it was living in the village of Talanga in the mountains of Honduras and working hard to provide latrines and clean drinking water to its residents, or caring for orphans and abandoned children in Cuernavaca, Mexico, Lahr was, in the words of her mother Colleen, “in love with life.”

“You would look at her and think that she was in love, but it was with life,” Colleen said. “It was with people, little Mexican children, older Hispanic women. She laughed and giggled all the time. She worked very hard at maintaining friendships.”

Passionist Father Lucian Clarke, who helped oversee Brooke’s missionary work in Honduras, described her as “wonderfully relentless in her relationships with people and in her zeal in her work.”

“She was a very dynamic young woman with a lot of tremendous energy,” said Father Lucian, the director of Passionist Volunteers International (PVI). “It wasn’t just physical energy, but a spiritual energy, too.”

She channeled that energy through her association with PVI and Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH), which translated means “our little brothers and sisters.” The organization was founded in 1954 by an American priest serving in Mexico that today cares for more than 3,000 orphaned or abandoned children in countries across Latin America.

As a student at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, where Mark and Colleen both are teachers, Brooke used her energy to excel as a three-sport athlete.

But Colleen said toward the end of her senior year, Brooke saw that there was more to life than running with the “in crowd” at Ben Davis, largely populated by fellow athletes.

“She didn’t want to follow that pattern,” Colleen said. “ … She just felt that there was a need to be doing something different.”

Brooke nurtured her desire to serve while at Bellarmine, something that pleased her parents.

“I was very excited,” Colleen said. “It was an adventure for her. She even mentioned that she wanted to go to Africa, to go to China. I was in full support of it.”

“It showed her development and her maturity,” added Mark.

That maturity blossomed in the challenging work that Brooke and her fellow PVI volunteers took on in Honduras.

They entered into their ministry there during the economic downturn in the U.S., so getting funding for their work was challenging. Despite that challenge, Brooke and her teammates stuck with it, extending their stay in Honduras beyond their one-year commitment so they could complete the project they went there to accomplish.

“Brooke and they kept the spirits of the people alive,” said Father Lucian. “They would tend to get discouraged that they would never get the latrines and the [clean] water. Brooke and her teammates were heroic in how they maintained the spirits and life of the people.”

Brooke did her mission work in Honduras from 2010 through 2011.

The relationships Brooke and her teammates fostered with the people they served were, in Father Lucian’s eyes, not just an expression of her being a people person, but more deeply of honoring their human dignity.

“I just think that they were magnificent,” Father Lucian said. “To me, they were models of how to deal with the marginalized in the world, treating them with a lot of dignity and grace, not just giving a handout, but doing things with the people.”

Although Mark and Colleen were impressed by the service that their daughter gave to people in need, they appreciate how she wasn’t alone in that drive to think of other people first.

They saw that quality in a special way in the days leading up to Brooke’s funeral as they hosted five of the young adults who had volunteered with their daughter in Honduras.

It was in those days of grieving that Mark and Colleen made a decision to help, in the memory of Brooke, other teenagers and young adults who seek to go abroad to help people in need like their daughter did.

“I don’t necessarily see that her job is finished,” Colleen said. “I just see that, through her dying, it’s allowing us to open up her story to so many more people.”

So they invited the more than 1,500 people who came to Brooke’s calling at Ben Davis to consider making a contribution in her name to help young people go on mission trips.

Some $7,000 was contributed on that day.

“It was pretty humbling,” said Mark. “But it also shows us that there’s a desire and a drive for this type of thing to happen.”

In the days that followed, Mark and Colleen worked with Ellen Brunner, archdiocesan director of the Catholic Community Foundation, to establish the Brooke Nicole Lahr Memorial Fund for International Mission Work, which is being managed by the Catholic Community Foundation.

The fund established is an expendable fund which allows the people who established the fund to help determine how it will be dispersed. Today, the value of the fund stands at approximately $23,573. Donations to the fund are still being accepted.

In the coming months, a selection committee, which will include representation from Brooke’s family, will elicit applications from freshman in high school through young adults from throughout the archdiocese for scholarships to be awarded from the fund for international mission trips to be taken next spring or summer.

“Hopefully, we’ll get to know these kids,” Mark said. “We want to hear about their stories. We want to make sure that we have that connection with the applicants and the scholarship winners.”

Brunner has appreciated working with Mark and Colleen to honor their daughter and help young people like her.

“Mark and Colleen are an inspiration,” Brunner said. “They have taken the devastating loss of their daughter and created a lasting legacy and tribute to her. Brooke did much during her young life through her mission work and care for those in need.

“The Lahrs’ response to their daughter’s tragic death is a reminder of the power of God’s strength.”

The donations of so many people to the fund have also strengthened Brooke’s parents’ faith in God at a tragic time.

“I could not have survived all of this psychologically without that type of support,” said Mark. “And the drive to get this going has been one of those things that’s helped me understand. It’s deepened my faith and helped me go forward because I know that there’s more out there.”
 

(For information on how to apply for a scholarship from the Brooke Nicole Lahr Memorial Fund for International Mission Work or how to contribute to it, send an e-mail to Ellen Brunner at ebrunner@archindy.org or call her at 317-236-1427 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1427.)

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