April 4, 2008

Lessons of sharing mark lives of Spirit of Service winners

Spirit of Service Awards Dinner logoBy John Shaughnessy

Doris S. Parker never forgot the lesson that has guided her life—a lesson she learned as a child after her mother died and her father did everything he could to continue the feeling of family for his six young children.

“We grew up very poor, but our dad told us at an early age that we had to share with others,” Parker recalls. “If it was dinner time at our house and we had a friend over who didn’t get much to eat at home, my dad would always set another plate at the table. He felt there was always enough food to stretch for one more.”

Those lessons of sharing and stretching mark the life of Parker. They also represent the lives of Prisca Arredondo, Connie Merkel, and Bell (Bea) and Theodore (Ted) Davis. Those five individuals are this year’s Spirit of Service Award winners.

Shiel Sexton, an Indianapolis construction company, is the winner of the Corporate Leadership Award.

The winners will be recognized by the archdiocese on April 30 during a dinner that will benefit Catholic Charities Indianapolis. (See also: Tables available for Spirit of Service Awards dinner)

Here are their stories:

Doris S. Parker

Now 77, Parker has dedicated her life to eliminating poverty, fighting racism and creating opportunities for people who weren’t always welcome at the main table of American society.

“I believe in the American dream,” says Parker, a member of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis. “In my 77 years, I’ve seen so many unjust acts, it’s painful to recall. I thought if we were ever going to live the American dream, we have to extend ourselves to work for justice, to include everyone in the fabric of American life. I look for justice in everything I do.”

She worked for justice in the 1950s when she was a college student who joined in the sit-in of an Indianapolis restaurant that wouldn’t serve blacks.

She worked for justice when she served as a leader on the boards of directors of the Indianapolis Urban League, Community Action Against Poverty, the National Campaign for Human Development and the Central Indiana Council on Aging.

“I didn’t have a lot of money, but I could share my time with people who had less,” she says.

It’s a matter of living the faith by giving hope to others, she says.

“There’s a song that says, ‘Take your candle and light the world.’ If we use our candle to seek and help the weak and the lame, we can light the world.”

Bea and Ted Davis

After 45 years of marriage, Bea and Ted Davis acknowledge they often think alike. Even better is the way the husband and wife act alike in their efforts to help others.

Consider how Ted reacted in 1993 when his father died, and he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he spoke at seminars, encouraging other men to seek early diagnosis and treatment.

Consider that after Bea and Ted, both 68, bring Communion to shut-ins, they often run errands for the people they regard as friends.

Consider that when someone dies at their parish—Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis—they help prepare and serve food to the bereaved families and friends.

“When the Church asks, we give,” Bea says. “We’re giving people, and we can do it. You can never give too much.”

Ted nods in agreement as he sits next to his wife on a couch in their Indianapolis home.

“If I haven’t helped someone during the day, I feel I haven’t accomplished anything,” says Ted, who often starts his morning by picking up trash in his neighborhood. “I have some people I take care of. I do their grocery shopping and their banking, just anything they need. There’s a lady across the street. She’s in a wheelchair. I do her banking, and I take her trash out. I always feel there are people who need help.”

He has also been an usher at his church for 41 years, and a member of the Holy Angels Parish Council for more than 25 years.

They have never sought recognition for their efforts, but they’re thrilled to be receiving the Spirit of Service Award.

“I’m elated,” Bea says. “It’s an award I’ll treasure the rest of my life.”

Prisca Arredondo

As part of their American dream, the Arredondo family has their own masonry business.

Still, for Prisca Arredondo, the true focus of her life is building a better world for others.

The pastor of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis, Father Michael O’Mara calls Arredondo “a gift” as he offers a long list of the ways that this Mexican immigrant has made a difference to people.

She especially connects with members of the Spanish-speaking community, serving as a catechist, a volunteer for the St. Vincent de Paul Society and as a coordinator of the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program.

She visits the sick and shut-ins, and she also serves as a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion for the parish. She also enjoys helping with special celebrations at the parish, including Christmas and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“Prisca is a very humble, faith-filled person,” Father O’Mara says. “She seeks to serve people in whatever way she can. She is a sincere example of peace and justice. When Jesus spoke the Beatitudes, I think he described Prisca.”

She and her husband, Trinidad, have made their home in Indianapolis since 1987. They have provided a Catholic education for their five sons. They have also given their children the best example of how to treat others.

“Since I can remember, I like to serve others,” says Arredondo, who adds that she is humbled by her honor. “I want to thank God because he gave me the life and I’m doing what I really like.”

Connie Merkel

Two questions kept motivating Connie Merkel: What are we doing? And what more could we be doing?

Merkel and others at St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis first asked the questions in 1985 when the bishops in the United States wrote a pastoral letter called Economic Justice for All. Twenty-three years later, the response of the parish, through Merkel’s leadership, provides a blueprint for making a difference locally and globally.

This year, St. Barnabas Parish will sponsor four mission trips to help the poor, including one to Mexico and another to Ecuador. The parish also finances and builds homes in the Indianapolis area through Habitat for Humanity. Other local outreach efforts include a summer breakfast program for inner-city children, assistance for refugee families, and clothes, food and Christmas gifts for people in need.

“Connie’s leadership is the glue that holds all the outreach efforts together,” notes Karen Oddi, a member of St. Barnabas Parish. “She empowers others in advocating for peace and justice and respect for the dignity of all persons.”

Merkel downplays the praise, but not the magic of what can happen when people help others.

“One of the most touching moments for me was when we went to Guatemala to build a house,” she says. “These people couldn’t believe we knew they were there or cared that they were there. They couldn’t understand why we got on a plane to build a house there. They were touched and amazed.”

That moment continues to motivate Merkel. So do the changes she’s seen in her parish since its outreach efforts took wings 23 years ago.

“Our parish has really embraced stewardship,” she says. “We know we really are so blessed. How can we not share that? We wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for God.”

Corporate Leadership Award

Shiel Sexton will receive the Corporate Leadership Award for its many contributions to the archdiocese and the central Indiana community.

Since its beginning in 1962, the construction company has helped build and develop many schools and community organizations in central Indiana. The company also often provides “in-kind” donations for construction services—a way of helping schools and organizations that can’t afford the ever-increasing cost of construction.

As an example, Shiel Sexton donated $200,000 in services in 2007 to Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis. The contributions included fee donation, executive leadership, employee volunteer time, and donations of goods and services. The company also sponsors four students at Providence Cristo Rey through their corporate work-study program.

Shiel Sexton also contributed an additional $360,000 in services to other organizations and schools, including Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, the Indianapolis YMCA and the Indianapolis Art Center.

The company also prides itself on its hands-on approach to volunteering. In 2007, Shiel Sexton employees contributed about 6,800 hours of volunteer time to community organizations in central Indiana.

The company also directly donated about $1 million to central Indiana organizations in the past five years.

(For more information about the Spirit of Service Award dinner or for links to past stories about previous

Spirit of Service Award winners, log on to www.archindy.org/spirit.) †

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