September 23, 2011

Bishop Chatard family comes ‘home’ to celebrate 50 years

Bishop Chatard High School students Nick Shultz, from left, Monica Ward, Lauren Taylor and Okenna Oruche blow out the candles on a cake celebrating the Indianapolis North Deanery archdiocesan high school’s 50th anniversary on Sept. 13. (Submitted photo)

Bishop Chatard High School students Nick Shultz, from left, Monica Ward, Lauren Taylor and Okenna Oruche blow out the candles on a cake celebrating the Indianapolis North Deanery archdiocesan high school’s 50th anniversary on Sept. 13. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The celebration began with the return of a teacher from 50 years ago—a teacher who became a bishop of the Church.

When Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger received an invitation to the 50th anniversary celebration of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, he thought about his time as a Latin teacher there in 1961, and his later role as the principal of the interparochial high school for the archdiocese’s North Deanery.

As the fond memories rushed back, the 75-year-old retired bishop of the Evansville Diocese arranged his schedule to return to Indianapolis to celebrate Mass at the beginning of the school’s anniversary festivities on Sept. 13—50 years to the day after the school opened.

“I grew up here,” Bishop Gettelfinger said after the Mass, explaining why he wanted to return for the celebration. “The students were 13 and 14, and I was 25. That time was actually a formation for myself. We were in it together. We struggled together, and we survived together. Coming back here is coming back home.”

The celebration continued near the front steps of Bishop Chatard High School where Hannah Young was among the current students who greeted the 650 people that came to share in the evening’s dinner.

“The best thing about Bishop Chatard is it’s really a family-oriented school,” said Hannah, a junior. “There’s so much tradition that has surrounded Bishop Chatard, and I love the faith-based community. When I walk into the school, I feel like I’m getting a hug every day, even on the bad days. I love the support system. It’s like my second home.”

Separated by generations but connected by a school, Bishop Gettelfinger and Hannah both used the word “home” to describe their experiences at Bishop Chatard—a common sentiment that echoed throughout the anniversary celebration.

The school, which bears the name of Bishop Francis Silas Chatard, is “home” to nearly 9,000 alumni and 725 current students.

It’s “home” to an annual Dance Marathon program that has raised more than $213,000 to support Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

It’s “home” to a Living Rosary tradition in which each year’s seniors come together in a candle-lighting ceremony to honor the Blessed Mother.

It’s also “home” to the Catholic Educator Advancement Program, a model for archdiocesan schools in the areas of teacher development and compensation.

“In the past four years, we have had record-setting numbers of academic all-state and academic all-American recipients in our athletic programs,” the school’s president, Bill Sahm, informed the anniversary crowd. “We have set records in scholarships received for college in the past four years. And we have expanded our academic support program. We now serve over 130 students with certified learning differences and disabilities.”

While the event focused on the accomplishments of the past and the present for the school, Sahm also used the celebration to officially open a $4.5 million Golden Opportunities Capital Campaign for the school’s future.

With more than $2 million already pledged, the campaign will be used for classroom restorations, technology improvements, teacher compensation, tuition assistance and upgrades to athletic facilities, according to Sahm.

Even with the update of all the planned physical improvements, most people at the event focused on celebrating the school’s history as a faith-based, family-focused place where education, service and values are stressed.

“We really felt the school always offered stability and diversity,” said Dan Hoyt, whose nine children graduated from Bishop Chatard High School between 1984 and 1998. “Of our 17 grandchildren, four are adopted from Africa and Guatemala. In high school, our kids learned to have people of other ethnic backgrounds as a normal part of our lives. Judy [my wife] and I always appreciated the value system that was established here, and we were glad to be a part of it.”

Ellen Landers has felt the same way in her 30 years as a French teacher at the school.

“We use the cliché ‘family,’ but that’s how everyone really feels about it,” Landers says. “You just have that bond that’s really special. When I’ve had tough times in my life, the people here have been there for me. And the kids genuinely like it here. That says a lot. I can’t imagine doing a job for 30 years if you didn’t love it. I love my kids.”

Besides Bishop Gettelfinger, the anniversary celebration was also a homecoming for Holy Cross Brother Joseph Umile. “Brother Joe” came from the East Coast in 1993 to begin a

14-year tenure as principal and then president of the school.

“It means a lot to be back,” said Brother Joe, now director of development at Holy Cross College in South Bend, Ind. “I keep thinking of the people. It brings back a lot of good memories of what we were able to accomplish. It’s looking good now. It keeps getting better and better.”

Perhaps no one has seen the 50-year evolution of Bishop Chatard High School from a better vantage point than Benedictine Sister Louise Hoeing. Growing up nearby, she remembers when the land where the school stands was mostly a swamp area. Then she became part of the school staff in 1975, serving most of her years as the director of guidance. In her 37th year at the school, she now helps in coaching young teachers.

“I saw the laying of the cornerstone for the school,” Sister Louise said. “It’s kind of miraculous how it has evolved and grown into what it is today. What still energizes me are the students—their successes and seeing what they’re doing with their lives. The word ‘awesome’ comes to mind. Faith and trust hold us together as a community.” †

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