May 1, 2009

Spirit of Service winners know ‘how to live the good life’

Spirit of Service Award winners, seated from left, are Maxine Ferguson, Lynne O’Day, Jenna Knapp and Patty Schmalz. Standing, from left, are Pat Sullivan, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein and Robert Sullivan. (Photo by Richard Clark)

Spirit of Service Award winners, seated from left, are Maxine Ferguson, Lynne O’Day, Jenna Knapp and Patty Schmalz. Standing, from left, are Pat Sullivan, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein and Robert Sullivan. (Photo by Richard Clark)

By John Shaughnessy

One by one, they walked onto the stage to receive their awards—five people who are examples of “how to live the good life” even in the most challenging economic times.

The youngest—21-year-old Jenna Knapp—lives the good life by trying to make a difference to children in need.

The oldest—86-year-old Robert Sullivan—knows the personal fulfillment that comes from running a successful business, and sharing a family’s success with schools, parishes and Catholic agencies that reach out to people who need help.

And the three other 2009 Spirit of Service Award winners—Maxine Ferguson, Lynne O’Day and Patty Schmalz—could each give seminars on how to grow rich in life by sharing your talents and giving away your love.

That alternate definition of “Living the Good Life in Tough Economic Times” wasn’t the official theme of the Spirit of Service Awards dinner at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis on April 22, but it certainly reflected the spirit of the annual event that helped Catholic Charities Indianapolis raise about $160,000 to continue its ever-expanding efforts to help the needy.

Just consider the key points that the executive director of Catholic Charities Indianapolis—David Bethuram—made during the awards dinner.

“Ninety years ago, Catholic Charities Indianapolis was founded to serve the poor and hurting of our community on the premise that every human being has the right to a dignified and cared-for existence,” Bethuram said. “Since those early days, we have been blessed to make a difference in many lives from all faiths.

“We continue to provide quality services helping people as they struggle with poverty, homelessness, unemployment, emotional health, loneliness and isolation. Last year, we touched the lives of nearly 30,000 people.”

And the requests for basic needs have increased dramatically during the economic crisis, Bethuram noted. “Our shelter services have seen a

30 percent increase in the number of calls from families for housing assistance, and our Crisis Office has served more than 9,000 households this year with food assistance, which is nearly double the amount of households we served last year.”

In the midst of that rising demand, the archdiocese continues to increase its commitment, Bethuram said. A new Holy Family Shelter is scheduled to open in the fall on the campus of Holy Trinity Parish in Indianapolis, a facility that will provide for an additional 300 people every year.

That deep commitment also marks the lives of the 2009 Spirit of Service Award winners, according to Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein.

Addressing the winners personally during the annual celebration, the archbishop told them: “Your commitment to selflessly serving the poor, the sick, the elderly and anyone in need is proof that one person can make a difference. I hope others will be inspired to follow in your footsteps and rise to the challenge to see the face of Christ in everyone.”

It’s a way of life—“the good life”—that’s evident in each of the award winners.

Consider the life-affirming efforts of Lynne O’Day. Early in her marriage, she and her husband, Daniel, adopted their son and their daughter—blessings that led to Day’s deep, long-term commitment to serving as a volunteer for St. Elizabeth/Coleman Pregnancy and Adoption Services in Indianapolis.

O’Day has been extensively involved with Catholic Charities agencies throughout the archdiocese. She also volunteers for the Genessaret Free Clinic, which provides medical care to the poor and the homeless in Marion County.

“I’ve been blessed,” says O’Day, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “This is a wonderful way to share my blessings with others.”

That same approach guides Maxine Ferguson, another award winner from St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis. She makes weekly visits to bring Communion to the parish’s sick and homebound members. She greets people as a volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul Client Choice Food Pantry, and she serves lunch to children from needy families who come to St. Thomas Aquinas Parish for a summer day camp. She has also visited people in prison.

“I’m thankful to be part of the physical and spiritual lives of others, which helps to strengthen mine,” says Ferguson, a retired teacher who taught at Holy Angels School in Indianapolis and served as principal at St. Rita School in Indianapolis. “It’s just a privilege to help others.”

Jenna Knapp has learned that perspective at a young age. For nearly all of 2008, the 21-year-old University of Notre Dame student lived and volunteered in El Salvador and Uganda in two settings marked by poverty and desperation—and by faith and hope.

She began her six months in Uganda by volunteering for an organization that builds elementary schools in Africa. Later, she served as a “mother” in a group home for 11 street children. In El Salvador, she taught English to children in an urban slum.

“I feel I’m more alive when I’m living in service and not removed from it,” says Knapp, a graduate of St. Pius X School in Indianapolis. “With what I’ve been given in life, I feel I owe so much back. I want to listen and love in a way that I hope I can sustain all through my life.”

Patty Schmalz has dedicated more than 35 years of her life to St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. She has served as a lector, a food pantry volunteer, co-chair of the parish festival, a marriage preparation team leader and president of the ladies’ club. She was also the first woman elected chairperson of the parish pastoral council.

Similar to the other Spirit of Service Award winners this year, she feels humbled by the honor. She just believes she is using the gifts that God has given her.

“When you use your gifts the way he intends you to use them, you’re fulfilled,” Schmalz says. “I felt I found it years ago. This is what fits. This is what’s right.”

That approach to life and faith also marks the Sullivan family, the owners of Sullivan Hardware and Garden, this year’s choice for the Corporate Leadership Award.

Since Robert Sullivan started the business in 1954, the family has followed a tradition of sharing its blessings with the Church. Besides supporting numerous parishes and parish schools for the past 55 years, the Sullivan family also contributes to Seeds of Hope, the Little Sisters of the Poor and Right to Life of Indianapolis.

“My dad always led by example,” says Pat Sullivan, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, who now runs the family business. “Whatever the Church needed, he did it. We learned from him. It’s always been a part of our lives. It’s what we do.” †

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