October 17, 2008

Therber named president of Scecina High School

By John Shaughnessy

Joseph TherberJoseph Therber faced two appealing choices recently when he considered his future and the future of one of the proud, tradition-rich Catholic high schools in Indianapolis.

He could continue his fulfilling efforts as the executive director of stewardship and development for the archdiocese—efforts that helped lead to pledges of $114 million for the Legacy for Our Mission: For Our Children and the Future capital campaign.

Or he could apply for the position of president of Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis—a school where he has taught, coached and served as the athletic director and a member of the board of directors during the past 22 years.

As he struggled with the two choices that both pulled at his heart, Therber met with Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein to talk about the different paths. When the meeting in the archbishop’s office neared its end, the archbishop told Therber that he would support either choice and encouraged him to pray about it.

Then came the moment that changed everything for Therber.

“We were talking in the waiting area outside his office when I noticed a wooden statue of St. Theodora [Guérin],” Therber recalled. “One of us said I should pray to her. We chuckled and I said, ‘That might take me into the wilderness like she was.’

“That was a pivotal part of the whole thing for me. In faith and hope, she stepped into a tremendous ministry. That cast everything into a broader light for me.”

It also led the 46-year-old Therber to accept the position as Scecina’s president, starting on Oct. 27.

“The families of a lot of Scecina kids through the years have made an incredible sacrifice to give their kids that education,” Therber said. “In 22 years for me, a huge point has been seeing those stories come to life and supporting those stories. Now, we want to make the school even stronger for the future.”

The archbishop praised Therber’s contributions to the archdiocese and looked forward to the leadership he will give Scecina. The archbishop also announced that Kent Goffinet, director of stewardship and development, will serve as interim executive director.

“Although it was difficult to let Joe go, I believe this move will greatly enhance the archdiocese’s efforts to continue providing an excellent Catholic high school education for students in the Indianapolis East Deanery,” the archbishop said.

“We will miss Joe’s passion and enthusiasm for stewardship. He has overseen the archdiocese’s annual Called to Serve appeal, and he oversaw our very successful Legacy for Our Mission capital stewardship campaign, which raised $114 million. He also played key leadership roles in past stewardship campaigns that raised millions of dollars for Catholic education, Catholic Charities and many of our other ministries.”

The archbishop also noted that becoming president of the Indianapolis East Deanery interparochial high school “will be a homecoming of sorts for Joe, who began his career with the archdiocese at Scecina.”

Therber first joined the staff at Scecina in 1986 as a Christian studies teacher. He later served as the school’s facilities manager, assistant athletic director and athletic director. He also was an assistant coach in baseball, boys’ basketball and football. He helped coach Scecina’s state championship football teams in 1990 and 1991. He also served on the school’s board of directors.

His office at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis is marked with Scecina memorabilia. Two footballs from the school’s championship teams have prominent spots. So do photos of several Scecina teams, both boys’ and girls’.

He also knows the history of the school’s namesake, a young Indianapolis archdiocesan priest who was killed in World War II. While he was with other American prisoners of war in 1944, Father Scecina was herded onto a ship by the Japanese, a ship that was mistakenly torpedoed by an American submarine. As the ship sank, Father Scecina spent hours hearing confessions and giving comfort and absolution to his men. He was one of the nearly 1,800 who died in the tragedy.

Nine years later, in 1953, the Indianapolis school bearing his name opened.

“Through the years, Scecina students have internalized the legacy of Father Thomas,” Therber said. “They know the message of that life—that my life is for others. For so many years, Scecina has been imbued with that spirit.”

Fueling and building that spirit is now one of Therber’s main goals. The father of five, including two daughters who attend Scecina, wants to help students reach their dreams and prepare for their futures while creating a school atmosphere focused on personal growth, success and enjoyment.

He has the skills to achieve those goals, admirers say.

“Joe’s knowledge of development and his hard work ethic will be a real boost for Scecina,” said Annette “Mickey” Lentz, executive director of Catholic education and faith formation for the archdiocese. “I consider his appointment a real win-win for both the archdiocese and the high school.”

Therber has served the Church at the parish level as a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis. He has been a member of the parish council, a Catholic Youth Organization football and basketball coach, and the chairperson of the School Commission and the Development Committee for the parish. He also has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame.

“He’s the right selection,” said Father Joseph Riedman, the dean of the Indianapolis East Deanery and the administrator of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. “He can give some real support to the needs of Scecina. I think the alumni will be very pleased that he accepted the position. He appreciates the people of the east side, and they appreciate him. I think the people of the east side will be excited.”

That same reaction was shared by Phil Kenney, the chairman of the board of directors at Scecina.

“He’s a wonderful addition to the school,” Kenney said. “He’s a great leader who will be able to take all the different groups involved—students, staff, parents, alumni, donors, friends—get them on board and lead us into a very successful future. When he talks about the students, the school and the alumni, his love for the place is evident.”

Scecina is a faith-filled community that has become like family for Therber, almost as close as the family that he has created with his wife of 20 years, Angie.

It’s a faith-filled community where Therber sees a past marked by pride, a present touched by revival and a future that he views as promising.

“Scecina is the school it is today because of everybody who has come through it,” he said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to all those people. Now, we have to start to define the story of our future. I would love for Scecina to be, and be known as, one of the 10 best urban Catholic high schools in the country.”†

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