November 20, 2009

Support of Catholic schools must continue, Colts president says

1,000 people attend Celebrating Catholic School Values dinner

Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian entertained an audience of 1,000 people during his talk at the 2009 Celebrating Catholic School Values awards dinner on Nov. 10. Polian ended his speech by calling upon Catholics to make the same sacrifices for Catholic schools that previous generations of Catholics made. (Photo by Rich Clark)

Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian entertained an audience of 1,000 people during his talk at the 2009 Celebrating Catholic School Values awards dinner on Nov. 10. Polian ended his speech by calling upon Catholics to make the same sacrifices for Catholic schools that previous generations of Catholics made. (Photo by Rich Clark)

By John Shaughnessy

It was an evening to share stories and laughter, to fondly remember people who gave from the heart, and to praise five individuals who have used the values of their Catholic education to touch the lives of others.

The 14th annual celebration of Catholic education in the archdiocese came with moments of humor, including a story that Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian shared from his days as a student-athlete at a Catholic grade school.

Polian recalled coming to bat in a big baseball game during his eighth-grade year at Our Lady of Mercy School in New York City. The pitcher he faced that day would one day end up playing major league baseball. Polian made the sign of the cross before he stepped into the batter’s box.

Three pitches and three breeze-stirring swings later, Polian trudged away from home plate as a strike-out victim. He returned to the dugout, where he was greeted by Father McNulty, a priest associated with the team.

“He sat down next to me and said, ‘Bill, I noticed you blessed yourself before you stepped inside the batter’s box,’ ” recalled Polian, the keynote speaker who addressed the audience of more than 1,000 people who attended the Celebrating Catholic School Values: Scholarship and Awards Dinner on Nov. 10.

“I said, ‘Yeah, that’s right, Father.’ He said, ‘Why’d you do it?’ I said, ‘I thought it would help.’ He said, ‘It only helps if you can hit.’ ”

The celebration of Catholic education at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis also provided a few touching moments, including a video tribute to the late Philip J. Wilhelm, a generous, longtime supporter of Catholic schools.

Noting how Wilhelm always gave of his time and from his heart, Father James Farrell talked about how his friend “treated each day as a gift from God, and how he used each day to express that gratitude.”

The celebration of Catholic education also showered praise on five Catholic school graduates who were honored for their contributions to the lives of others: Oliver Jackson, Patricia “Pat” Cronin, Charles “Chick” Lauck, and Eleanor and Robert McNamara. The event also paid tribute to the Colts’ organization for its extensive efforts in community service.

“I’d like to congratulate all of our honorees,” said Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein. “Each of you is an inspiration.”

Inspiration also came at the end of Polian’s talk when his string of humorous stories gave way to a serious plea to the audience.

He mentioned the sacrifices that American immigrants of Catholic faith in the early and mid-20th century made to build schools and churches across the country—despite economic hardships and discrimination in their lives. He noted how that commitment—combined with the educational efforts of priests, religious sisters and religious brothers—created a foundation of discipline, hard work and morality for their children and grandchildren.

“In no small measure, because of that education, we have prospered—many of us beyond the wildest dreams of our parents and grandparents,” Polian said.

“Now, more than ever, the values that all of us espouse and have benefited from prove, day after day, to be effective and enduring in education. Now, more than ever, the mission of Catholic education is critical to the continued growth and prosperity of our country. It’s up to each of us, its beneficiaries, to help pave the way for those who follow us, just as those who preceded us paved the way for us.”

The 14th annual celebration of Catholic education in the archdiocese raised a preliminary estimate of more than $265,000. That amount adds to the more than $4 million that the event has already raised through the years 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 strong foundations of the archdiocese, noted Annette “Mickey” Lentz, the chancellor of the archdiocese who also serves as the executive director of Catholic education and faith formation.

“Through our honorees, we get to see what an important impact a Catholic education has on so many lives and on our community,” Lentz said. “This annual dinner also gives us an opportunity to raise some much-needed money to help make the dream of a Catholic education possible for children who might not otherwise be able to attend a Catholic school.”

The event had a nostalgic quality for Lentz, whose 48 years of dedication to Catholic education in the archdiocese are scheduled to conclude by the end of the school year. She will then turn her full attention to the chancellor’s position in the archdiocese.

“You are my family and friends,” Lentz told the audience. “It has been a great privilege to help lead the education efforts in our archdiocese in the best way I know how.”

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

Oliver Jackson was praised for his 39 years as a member of the Indianapolis Police Department—years in which the longtime member of St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis worked tirelessly to establish after-school tutoring and athletic programs in community centers, public schools, and Boys and Girls Clubs in Indianapolis.

A member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, Patricia “Pat” Cronin was cited for her involvement with the Catholic Youth Organization, her support of Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis and her role in creating a faith-focused club for Catholic businesswomen.

Charles “Chick” Lauck received his recognition for serving the Catholic Youth Organization as its board president, for leading a capital campaign at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis that raised more than $8 million, and for tirelessly volunteering at St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, where he has served on the parish council, the athletic board and the school commission.

Robert and Eleanor McNamara were honored for their continual commitment to their Church and community.

Married for 56 years, the members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis have served as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. They have been active in the Cursillo movement, which is dedicated to helping people form a close relationship with Christ. The McNamaras are also involved with seminarians, and serve on the archdiocesan interview committee for men discerning the priesthood.

Wilhelm was remembered for his lifelong involvement and generous support of Catholic schools, including the schools that gave him an education and a foundation in life: Our Lady of Lourdes School in Indianapolis, Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.

A member of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis later in life, Wilhelm also gave his heart and his time to Church ministries in the archdiocese, especially the Catholic Youth Organization.

The Colts’ organization received the Community Service Award for its extensive efforts to make a difference throughout Indiana.

The team’s contributions include hosting one of the largest single-day blood drives in the country every December. The organization has also collected more than 360,000 books for foster children in Indiana. And each year, the Colts participate in more than 1,100 community events across Indiana.

Those efforts are a point of pride for Polian. So is his belief in the difference that Catholic schools make.

“Catholic upbringing and Catholic school values stay with you,” he said. “The values are the most important things.” †

Local site Links: