April 27, 2018

From the heart: Award-winning teacher sets the ‘God’ standard, hoping to help her students become saints

Lynne Locke has been chosen as this year’s recipient of the Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for a Catholic educator in the archdiocese. Locke teaches junior high theology and social studies at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Lynne Locke has been chosen as this year’s recipient of the Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for a Catholic educator in the archdiocese. Locke teaches junior high theology and social studies at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Lynne Locke wipes away the tears as she shares the story of a boy she taught during a junior high school theology class, a child who struggled for years in school.

“I offered to meet with him after school. After we had worked together for a while, he came over to me one day and said, ‘Last year’s teacher did not care about me. Last year’s teacher gave up on me.’ ”

The boy didn’t say anything else, but his look let Locke know that he appreciated the difference she was trying to make.

“I kept telling him, ‘You can do this. You’re smart. I’ll continue to help you. I’m not giving up on you.’ ”

It’s a bond between a teacher and a student that continues, similar to the bond that marks a second story that shows Locke’s caring as a teacher.

This moment also occurred at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis, where Locke teaches junior high theology and social studies. But this moment unfolded with a former student on the day when members of Ritter’s then-sophomore class were scheduled to receive their high school class rings during a special ceremony.

“Her mother wasn’t able to be there. Something came up and her mother had to work,” recalls Locke, who has taught in archdiocesan schools for 26 years. “So she asked me to present her ring to her. I was so surprised by it, and so touched. Kids don’t realize the impact something like that has on you. It meant a lot to me.”

Hoping to make ‘students into saints’

Locke’s depth of caring for her students is one of the reasons that she is this year’s recipient of the Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for a Catholic educator in the archdiocese. (Related: Finalists for teaching honor come from throughout the archdiocese)

Another reason is her commitment to the community, including preparing and serving meals to families of hospitalized children at the Ronald McDonald House in Indianapolis.

There’s also her commitment at school. She has coached three Academic Challenge teams to championships in the past three years. She also coordinates the eighth-grade class trip to New Albany and St. Louis so students can learn more about the legacy of Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter, a champion of school desegregation in both the archdioceses of Indianapolis and St. Louis.

Summing up Locke’s qualities, Cardinal Ritter’s principal Steve Pelych shared this assessment in recommending her for the archdiocesan honor:

“What makes Lynne most special is her commitment to the Catholic faith. Lynne lives her life evangelizing the Catholic faith through the manner in which she lives. Generations of students are not only smarter, but better people because of the guidance and teachings of Lynne.”

The chairperson of the school’s theology department Aaron Hollowell adds, “Lynne exemplifies the Catholic approach to education because from the moment you walk into her classroom you know her goal is to make her students into saints.”

That goal becomes clear while spending time watching Locke teach.

From the heart

In a theology class about the sacraments, she prepares her students for the opportunity for reconciliation that they will have the next day at school.

“Let’s think about what we’re putting into our relationship with God,” she tells a class of seventh-grade boys. “God wants you to be in relation to him.”

She encourages the students when they meet with the priest to share their confession “from the heart.”

Those three words could easily describe her approach to teaching. There’s also the reality that, for her, teaching and living her faith are always connected.

“Teaching is my way of bringing out the kingdom of God on Earth,” she says. “I see teaching as an avenue for helping children learn to be aware of their path in life, to stay on the path to heaven, to allow God to guide their thoughts and actions.”

Locke has taken her own special journey to her Catholic faith. Growing up in the Episcopal Church, she experienced her turning point when she was a freshman in 1977 at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. During the first week of school, her Catholic roommate said, “Let’s go to church,” and Locke joined her.

“I think it was that experience that made me realize I was at home. I really started the conversion process in college, and finished it when I wanted to get married in 1985. My husband Ed is Catholic.”

Now, she says, “My Catholic faith is everything to me. It grounds me. It’s the basis for everything I think and do. I can’t imagine life without my Catholic faith.”

A lasting impact

Her faith shines through in the way that she and her two siblings have made a commitment to make sure that one of them visits their mother—who suffered a stroke five years ago—at her nursing home every day.

“I always bring food because she was an extraordinary cook in her day,” Locke says with a smile. “She loves spaghetti and meatballs.”

The faith of the mother of two grown children is also reflected in the way that she considers her students as an extension of her family.

“I think of them all the time,” she says. “You’re always looking for a way to reach them. I’m here to be a role model to them, a listening ear, and even to be the person who might say, ‘That’s not acceptable.’

“You have to look at the individual person and try to understand where they’re coming from. It gives you the ability to look beyond what you see, to find ways you can reach children.”

When Locke is asked about the lasting impact that she hopes to have on her students, she pauses. Then she shares an answer that could serve as the trinity of goals that all Catholic educators should have for their students.

“I hope they always love to learn, and they always look for ways to get greater knowledge about anything.

“I hope they understand the love that Christ has for them and the importance of going to heaven one day.

“I hope they remember that I cared about them, and that I truly wanted what is best for them.

“I think they feel that way about me. I hope they do.” †

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