October 10, 2008

Education awards honor people who make a difference

By John Shaughnessy

When he worked in a jewelry store long ago, Anthony “Tony” Watt was surrounded by expensive jewels. Now he is part of a five-person group that is considered priceless by the archdiocese.

On Nov. 5, J. Terrence Cody, Ronald Jones, Richard “Dick” Powell, Providence Sister Marie Kevin Tighe and Watt will be honored during the archdiocese’s Celebrating Catholic School Values: Scholarship and Career Achievement Awards dinner. (More about the event here)

The 13th annual event—which has raised nearly $4 million to support need-based education scholarships—honors individuals who have used the foundation of their Catholic education to make a difference in the world.

Here is a glimpse into the lives of this year’s award winners.

Sister Marie Kevin Tighe, S.P.

At 84, Providence Sister Marie Kevin Tighe has the assignment of writing a memoir of her life—including her successful battle against cancer and her 11-year effort to promote the canonization cause of St. Theodora Guérin.

At its heart, Sister Marie Kevin’s memoir is a love story, the story of a woman who also made a difference to others as a teacher, a principal, and as the founder and director of pastoral council programs for the archdiocese.

“Sister is wise with scholars and compassionate with the suffering,” noted her friend, Mary Kathleen Fleming. “She speaks to the heart and soul of society’s most hurting people. She constantly exemplifies the meaning of being Christ to one another.”

While that focus is part of the story of Sister Marie Kevin, so is the heartwarming tale of a moment that contributed to her desire to join the Sisters of Providence.

“On Valentine’s Day during my eighth grade, some of the boys left the playground during the noon hour to go downtown to buy candy for their girlfriends,” she recalls. “Leaving the playground was a no-no. After noon recess was over, we arrived back in the classroom and there was much hubbub over the boxes of candy. I said to myself, ‘When Sister gets here, we are all going to be in big trouble.’

“As it happened, she appeared at the door, assessed the situation and said only these words, ‘Isn’t love grand!’ After that, we just went on with class as if nothing had happened. It was many years later, when I learned that the charism of Providence is ‘love, mercy and justice,’ that I realized how much Sister Viola Marie was imbued with those virtues. Although I had attended two years of high school taught by another community, I felt drawn back to the Sisters of Providence.

“I like to think that it was because I felt that something in me matched something in the Sisters of Providence.”

Richard “Dick” Powell

During the 2008 graduation ceremony at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, Richard “Dick” Powell received a standing ovation and an honorary diploma for his 43 years of teaching at the archdiocesan secondary school.

He also received overwhelming support for a Celebrating Catholic School Values Career Achievement Award. More than 20 people wrote letters of nomination for the religion, philosophy and Spanish teacher, including a glowing one from Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger of Evansville, who was principal of Bishop Chatard High School from 1967-70.

“Dick Powell ‘practices what he preaches’ in all that he does, but especially in teaching faith and values,” Bishop Gettelfinger wrote.

“There is no one in the Church that I know or have met in my 47 years of priesthood, in my 19 years involved with Catholic schooling as teacher, principal and superintendent in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, or in my 19 years as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville who so epitomizes Catholic values by his simple integrity rooted in an unbending faith and undying practice of it.”

In his four decades as a teacher, Powell challenged students, joked with them, always cared about them and never forgot them. The member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis also gave them a message to guide their lives:

“Search for the truth, find God, live the message and be happy. Find God in the Scriptures and in your life, but more so in your fellow human beings. And recognize that aspect of divinity.”

So many people see Powell’s life as a reflection of those words.

“My understanding of the Celebrating Catholic School Values Awards has always been that they are a means to honor those people who have taken what they received from a Catholic education and have given back something of their lives,” wrote Holy Cross Brother Joseph Umile, a former president of Bishop Chatard. “Dick has given back what he received 70 times 7.”

Ronald Jones

When he was 12, Ronald Jones set up a street-corner stand where he grilled meat and covered it with his parents’ homemade barbecue sauce that he loved so much—selling the juicy, tasty ribs and chicken to people entering the golf course across from his family’s home.

As a boy, Jones also noticed the special ingredient that guided his parents in their daily lives—their Catholic faith. And like the barbecue sauce, Jones made their faith his own.

Now 69, the longtime owner of the Bar-B-Q Heaven restaurant in Indianapolis credits his parents for giving him the foundation to succeed as a businessman and a person of faith.

“My mother and father gave me the opportunity to travel the road of success,” says Jones, a member of St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis. “They believed in God. They believed in doing the right thing. They’re the ones who put me on the path to Catholicism. My Catholic faith means everything to me. It gave me my inspiration as a child to succeed in life. It gave me a belief in God—to not only do good for myself but others.”

Jones is known for his generosity to St. Rita Parish and to Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis, where he was part of the school’s first graduating class in 1957. He is also known for his help in feeding the hungry and for being a minority business owner who gives employment opportunities to people in the community.

He has also left his mark in drag racing as a driver and an owner, being inducted into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2001. He is humbled by receiving the Celebrating Catholic School Values Achievement Award.

“I’m just an ordinary guy,” he says. “I keep a low profile and take one day at a time. My life has been very blessed.”

J. Terrence Cody

As a judge, J. Terrence Cody is often asked about the hardest situations that he faces on the bench.

He usually cites three situations: cases that involve removing children from their parents because of abuse or neglect, decisions regarding custody when it seems the children would thrive with either parent, and sentencing choices for someone who has been convicted of a crime.

“I have to call upon what I’ve learned, follow the Golden Rule and apply the law,” says Cody, the judge of the Floyd Circuit Court in southern Indiana. “I think back of how many times I heard my mother and father say, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ I try to treat people fairly and with respect.”

Cody says that approach to his work also marks the way he has tried to lead his life—an approach firmly rooted in the Catholic education he received at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville and Xavier University in Cincinnati.

“From the very beginning, starting in the first grade, Catholic education has meant so much to me—the moral and ethical values, the discipline and the work ethic,” says Cody, a member of St. Mary Parish in New Albany. “Now, it’s a matter of practicing my beliefs day by day.”

Beyond practicing those beliefs in court, he has also used them on the court as a basketball coach for a Catholic Youth Organization team at St. Mary Parish, where he has also served on the parish council and the board of education.

“Everything I do is influenced by my faith, my upbringing and my family,” he says. “My wife, Peggy, is a big part of this. She’s a convert who has embraced the importance of Catholic education for our two sons. This honor is as much a tribute to her as it is to me.”

D. Anthony “Tony” Watt

As a young husband and father, Tony Watt was working in a jewelry store when an unexpected conversation changed his life.

“I had dropped out of college,” Watt recalls. “A friend of a friend came in the store to buy something. We talked and he encouraged me to go back to college—to work nights and go back to school during the day.”

That customer even helped Watt get a job with the Chrysler Corporation as a line worker. The move was the first step toward changing his future and his role in shaping the lives of others.

After graduating from Marian College in Indianapolis in 1969, Watt continued to excel with Chrysler, retiring as a senior executive after 35 years. The father of four has been a coach and a referee in the Catholic Youth Organization. He has been a member of the Marian College board of trustees for 15 years, including the past five years as chairman.

He also has been extensively involved as a volunteer for the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies, serving as the chairman of the board for the consortium of six Catholic elementary schools in Indianapolis’ center-city.

“I believe that education is a very important part of helping the next generation,” says Watt, 66, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

Watt also believes that serving others is one of the most important lessons he learned from his Catholic education.

“You try to serve others. In others, you find Christ. That rewards me,” he says. “I truly believe you have to have a charitable heart. There’s more to stewardship than giving money. You have to give your time and talent, too. God gives you gifts so you can use them.”

It’s a legacy shared by this year’s winners of the Celebrating Catholic School Values Achievement Awards. †

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