November 14, 2008

Writer says Catholic values can be a part of good stories

1,000 people attend Celebrating Catholic School Values dinner

International best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark shares her insights at the annual Celebrating Catholic School Values Awards dinner on Nov. 5 in Indianapolis. (Photo by Rich Clark)

International best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark shares her insights at the annual Celebrating Catholic School Values Awards dinner on Nov. 5 in Indianapolis. (Photo by Rich Clark)

By John Shaughnessy

On an evening marked by the great stories of five Catholics who have made a difference in the world, it seemed fitting that the main speaker would be a well-known writer who describes herself as a storyteller.

Befitting her Irish heritage, international best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark shared moments of humor, heartbreak and hope as she addressed an audience of 1,000 people at the Celebrating Catholic School Values: Scholarship and Career Achievement Awards Dinner on Nov. 5.

“I absolutely believe you can tell a good story and keep the Catholic values you have learned,” said Clark, who attended Catholic elementary and high schools in the Bronx in New York.

An author whose suspense novels have sold more than 85 million copies, the 80-year-old Clark looked back on a life that seems straight from a work of fiction.

Her mother always encouraged her writing and her stories. Her father died when she was 11, and she had a brother who died during World War II. For a year, she worked as a stewardess on international flights, touring Africa, Asia and Europe.

She married the love of her life. Then she became a young widow with five children when her husband died. Her first suspense novel became a bestseller. As a reward, she attended college at another Catholic school, Fordham University in New York. Upon graduation, she celebrated by hosting a prom for herself.

Through it all, her Catholic roots stayed strong. In a life marked by her faith, she has received a papal honor and the Catholic Big Sisters Distinguished Service Award.

“If you want to be happy for a year, win the lottery,” she told the audience. “If you want to be happy for life, love what you do.”

Clark’s talk was part of the fundraising event at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis that honored five Catholic school graduates who have had notable careers: Providence Sister Marie Kevin Tighe, Richard “Dick” Powell, Ronald Jones, J. Terrence Cody and D. Anthony “Tony” Watt.

The 13th annual celebration of Catholic education in the archdiocese also added a preliminary estimate of more than $300,000 to the nearly $4 million that the event already had raised to provide tuition assistance for disadvantaged students who want to attend archdiocesan schools.

The commitment to providing Catholic education to children of all backgrounds is one of the remarkable strengths of the archdiocese as it celebrates its 175th anniversary, noted Annette “Mickey” Lentz, the executive director of Catholic education and faith formation for the archdiocese.

“We have so much to be thankful for over the past 175 years, and certainly one of our greatest blessings has been our Catholic schools,” Lentz told the audience. “Perhaps the best way to appreciate the power of Catholic schools is to imagine the Church in central and southern Indiana, or the Church in the United States for that matter, without them.

“What would our archdiocese look like without Catholic schools? Would it be as robust and vital? How would it produce generous leaders? How would it serve immigrants? How would it provide avenues of educational opportunity to the poor, especially those in our cities?”

Catholic schools have made a tremendous difference in each of those areas because of their faith-based approach, Lentz said.

“There is no substitute for spending 35 hours each week in an educational environment permeated by faith and Gospel values,” she said.

The difference that a Catholic education can make shines through the lives of the five individuals who were honored at this year’s event.

At 84, Sister Marie Kevin Tighe was honored for the difference she has made as a teacher, a principal, the founder of pastoral council programs for the archdiocese and her 11-year-effort as the chief promoter of the canonization cause of St. Theodora Guérin.

A cancer survivor, Sister Marie Kevin credits her Catholic education for giving her life its direction.

“My Catholic education had a powerful influence on my life and my life choices,” Sister Marie Kevin said. “I was influenced both by the value systems inherent in all the teaching as well as by the faith life and dedication of many teachers. I believe that it was the faith dimension of my Catholic schooling that gave meaning and purpose to life in general.”

Richard “Dick” Powell was cited for his integrity, his knowledge and his faith-filled life during 43 years of teaching at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis.

For more than 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.”

Ronald Jones was honored for his efforts to feed the hungry, for being a minority business owner who gives employment opportunities to people in the community, and for his generous support of St. Rita Parish and Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School, both in Indianapolis.

“My mother and father gave me the opportunity to travel the road of success,” said Jones, a restaurant owner, a former drag car racer and a member of St. Rita Parish.

“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.”

J. Terrence Cody was cited for his compassion and concern as a judge, and his dedication to St. Mary Parish in New Albany, where he has served on the parish council and the board of education.

“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,” said Cody, the judge of the Floyd Circuit Court in southern Indiana.

“Everything I do is influenced by my faith, my upbringing and my family. 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 received the Community Service Award for his dedicated efforts to Marian College in Indianapolis and his work in helping the archdiocese provide Catholic education to students in center-city schools.

Watt 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.

“You try to serve others,” said Watt, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “In others, you find Christ. That rewards me.”

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein presented each of the honorees with their award. He also praised them for the example they set and the lives they lead.

“We need the selfless dedication of people like you to carry out Christ’s mission in our archdiocese,” the archbishop noted.

After he thanked the parents, teachers, administrators, clergy, alumni and corporate partners who contribute to the success of Catholic education, he paid tribute to two people who set the foundation for Catholic education in the archdiocese’s 175-year history: St. Theodora Guérin and the archdiocese’s first bishop, the Servant of God Simon Bruté.

“It was part of their vision that a Catholic education should be available to anyone who desired it, regardless of their economic status or religious background,” the archbishop said. “They knew how to make the most of the limited resources available to them. They set the bar high, and we can do no less.” †

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