May 9, 2014

Spirit of Service honorees help transform lives of others

Catholic Charities Indianapolis presented six individuals with Spirit of Service Awards during an April 30 dinner in Indianapolis. Award recipients, seated from left, are Larry Heil, Mary Ann Browning, Art Berkemeier, Ann Berkemeier and Billy Cross. Standing, from left, are Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, keynote speaker Andrew Luck and Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin. Michael Browning was also honored, but he was unable to attend the event because of another engagement. (Submitted photo by Rich Clark)

Catholic Charities Indianapolis presented six individuals with Spirit of Service Awards during an April 30 dinner in Indianapolis. Award recipients, seated from left, are Larry Heil, Mary Ann Browning, Art Berkemeier, Ann Berkemeier and Billy Cross. Standing, from left, are Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, keynote speaker Andrew Luck and Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin. Michael Browning was also honored, but he was unable to attend the event because of another engagement. (Submitted photo by Rich Clark)

By John Shaughnessy

Looking back on a year when 48,000 people in need were helped by Catholic Charities Indianapolis, David Bethuram said the agency always pursues one goal:

To transform lives.

“Our agency has always had one simple charge—seek out and help people in need,” Bethuram told an audience of about 600 people at the annual Spirit of Service Awards Dinner on April 30 at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis. (Related: Andrew Luck shares team approach to serving others)

The director of Catholic Charities Indianapolis, Bethuram noted that the agency’s staff members and volunteers strive to transform the lives of people who have been affected by hunger, job loss, domestic violence, mental illness and homelessness.

“As we have embraced this charge, we find ourselves becoming part of a journey to provide help and create hope for people who are lost, defeated, confused and fragile.”

That focus on hope and human dignity is also evident in the six individuals who received this year’s Spirit of Service Awards during the dinner.

Consider the young life of Billy Cross, who was honored with the archdiocese’s Youth Spirit of Service Award.

‘It’s what God wants me to do’

Cross’ introduction to service came when his grandmother distributed Communion to people in nursing homes, and she brought Billy along to have the then-4-year-old boy play his violin.

While Cross continues to touch the lives of the elderly through his music at nursing homes, the 18-year-old son of William and Christine Cross makes his biggest impact on children and teenagers.

He helps teach a Sunday religious education class for first-to third-grade children at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. He assists with retreats for the parish’s eighth-grade students and confirmation candidates. A longtime altar server, he teaches younger servers.

An extraordinary minister of holy Communion, he also lives his faith by baby-sitting at Holy Family Shelter and volunteering at the Cathedral Soup Kitchen, both in Indianapolis.

“I think it’s what God wants me to do,” he said. “We are called to help people in their time of need, and that’s the sole reason I volunteer.”

That belief has also guided Larry Heil.

Ever since a priest asked for his help with a folk music group at a state penitentiary in Oregon 30 years ago, Heil has continued singing—in recent years joining the Hispanic choir at his home parish of Holy Spirit in Indianapolis.

At 57, Heil sees his involvement in the choir as a way to be a bridge between the Hispanic and Anglo members of the parish. Indeed, his life has been about creating connections.

A former Peace Corps volunteer, he is involved in the parish’s Honduras mission ministry. An engineer, he has done extensive construction work at Holy Spirit. He is also a team manager for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, an organization he has served for 25 years.

He and his wife of 22 years, Teresa, have also led the parish’s marriage preparation program for 15 years.

“When I pray, God leads me to where I should go,” he said. “I do believe God has things prepared for us. Our challenge is to listen and be responsive.”

‘It changes you’

Art and Ann Berkemeier share a bond marked by 40 years of marriage, four children and three grandchildren. They also share the motto, “If you believe in something, get involved in it.”

They have lived that belief in their volunteer efforts for the archdiocese, the community and their parish, St. Mark the Evangelist in Indianapolis.

Ann leads a group of about 20 retirees who volunteer weekly at the St. Vincent de Paul Society food pantry in Indianapolis. Art coordinates the computer technology efforts at the pantry.

Art has served on the boards of the archdiocese’s Serra Club, Catholic Community Foundation and the Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary. Ann has been a volunteer greeter for the recent Super Bowl in Indianapolis, the chairperson for the parish’s welcoming committee and a caretaker for parishioners in need.

Both Ann and Art have also been involved in the parish’s Catholic Youth Organization efforts.

“You get so much from helping others—the gratitude, the warm feelings,” Ann said.

“It changes you,” Art said. “You really start to see God in the people you help.”

Setting an example for children

Michael and Mary Ann Browning also embrace the connection between faith and service.

“Faith in God has everything to do with helping others,” Mary Ann said.

That approach guides the Brownings in their extensive efforts to create a more caring and more vibrant community throughout the archdiocese and Indiana.

Their efforts also earned the couple this year’s Community Spirit of Service Award.

The couple was instrumental in the capital campaign at Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis. Mary Ann has been active on the boards of Meals on Wheels, the ALS Association of Indiana and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. She has also served on the advisory board of the archdiocese’s Secretariat of Catholic Charities.

Michael Browning has left his mark on the physical, economic and civic growth of Indianapolis as the chairman of Browning Investments, an Indianapolis-based real estate development company.

He led the negotiations which resulted in the relocation of the NCAA Headquarters to Indianapolis. He has also served on the boards of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Indianapolis Economic Development Commission and St. Vincent Hospital and Health.

“We all need to help and set an example for our children to continue with our efforts,” Mary Ann said. †

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