January 24, 2014

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

A foundation of faith: Family continues to share the gift of a Catholic education

The extended family of Ed and Val Fillenwarth of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis pose for a photo during the Christmas holiday. The couple has contributed to a legacy of Catholic education and faith for their children and grandchildren. (Submitted photo)

The extended family of Ed and Val Fillenwarth of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis pose for a photo during the Christmas holiday. The couple has contributed to a legacy of Catholic education and faith for their children and grandchildren. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

As a youth, Ed Fillenwarth lived so close to Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis that he was often called upon to be an altar server at the 6:30 a.m. Mass for the Franciscan sisters who taught there.

As a child, Val Fillenwarth lived so close to St. Joan of Arc Church in Indianapolis that she and her five siblings followed this early morning routine during the school year:

“We would run down the alley, go to Communion, run home, get breakfast and run to school,” Val recalls with a smile.

So when the couple searched five years ago for a home where they could retire, it seemed fitting that they built one on a lot just eight houses from a Catholic grade school and another extra block from a Catholic high school.

After all, while the Fillenwarths built a house near two Catholic schools, they built a foundation for the lives of their seven children and their 17 grandchildren on Catholic education.

“We certainly appreciated the discipline in the Catholic grade schools that set the tone for high school and later,” says Ed, who is 74. “That start is so important.”

Val nods and adds, “Plus, we wanted them to have the faith. All of them are still Catholic.

“There’s just something special about being part of a parish. You see your friends at Mass. Then you see your friends at the basketball game in the afternoon. It’s all connected.”

As the Fillenwarths talk in their north side Indianapolis home, they are just down the street from where four of their grandchildren attend Christ the King School and just around the corner from where three of their grandchildren attend Bishop Chatard High School.

The couple often walks to watch their grandchildren’s games and events at both schools.

“The CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] is another huge thing in Catholic education,” says Val, 71, a 1960 graduate of the former St. Agnes Academy in Indianapolis. “It’s been a huge part of our lives. Our daughter, Diane, was a counselor at CYO Camp. That’s how she met her husband, Bob, who was the head counselor.”

The Fillenwarths’ legacy of Catholic education has also led to some of their children’s direct involvement in it.

Daughter Sheila Mays works as a counselor at Holy Spirit Catholic School in the Archdiocese of Louisville.

“I appreciate the value of a Catholic school, the community and the example of having faith be a part of every day,” Mays notes. “It’s more than just good academic instruction. It’s about the service projects, the daily prayers and the open discussions about God and the Catholic faith.”

Another daughter, Diane Schultz, teaches a fifth-grade class at St. Lawrence School in Indianapolis.

“At St. Lawrence, five of our teachers went to St. Lawrence School or parish as children,” Schultz says. “The family atmosphere is evident in the fact that most Catholic schools seem to have similar traditions.”

Daughter-in-law Christy Fillenwarth also comes from a family where Catholic education is a legacy worth embracing.

“I am blessed to be able to work in a Catholic school, and especially at Christ the King, the school that my parents grew up attending, and the school where both sets of my grandparents spent their lives building and volunteering,” says Christy, a second-grade teacher at Christ the King School.

“Catholic schools offer a sense of community—of belonging—that goes with you your entire life. It’s an important part of who you are.”

Daughter-in-law Beth Fillenwarth has also been a teacher and a substitute teacher in Catholic schools.

“The value of a Catholic education is priceless,” Beth says. “We are blessed to have God be a part of our kids’ lives every day. Each day, the kids in grade school and high school are taught to serve others physically and spiritually. Our choice in a Catholic education has reinforced what we strive for our children to become as they grow and mature.”

That’s one of the goals that Ed and Val—who first met at a Catholic wedding—had after they were married at St. Joan of Arc Church in 1964.

Six of their seven children graduated from Bishop Chatard after attending grade school at St. Lawrence School in Indianapolis. Their youngest child attended Lawrence Township schools because of a different learning style.

“Catholic education has been a gift, no question about it,” says Ed, a 1957 graduate of Scecina who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1961 and a law degree from Notre Dame in 1963.

“It’s so much a part of our lives,” Val says about Catholic education. “We can’t imagine anything else.”

She and Ed could never have imagined one of their all-time favorite moments in Catholic education.

“I remember one time a sister at St. Lawrence called at noon and said, ‘We have to talk about your son, Brian,’ ” Val recalls.

The religious sister and teacher described to Val the scene that happened as Brian—then a second-grade student—ran from the church after an all-school Mass and into the school ahead of his classmates. Inside the school, he jumped down a flight of steps as the sister followed him.

“When sister caught up to him, she said, ‘What got into you?!’And he said, ‘I got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!’ ”

The joy of that moment still shines in the faces of Ed and Val nearly 35 years later.

So does the benefit of a Catholic education to their family’s life.

“It’s a huge gift,” she says. “It’s who we are.” †

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