February 3, 2012

Mickey Lentz is honored as a ‘Champion of Change’ in White House ceremony for Catholic educators

By John Shaughnessy

When she was being honored at the White House on Jan. 25, Annette “Mickey” Lentz shared part of the simple philosophy that has guided her in 50 years of work, dedication and leadership in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

“Have faith, not only in yourself, but those with whom you lead, and in the youth,” Lentz said. “Realize that they are our hope for the world and the Church.”

Lentz shared that philosophy when she and nine other leaders in Catholic education from across the United States were recognized by President Barack Obama’s “Champions of Change” program. (See a list of the other honorees here)

Each week, the program honors different groups of people for their contributions to their local communities and the nation. The tributes to the nine Catholic educational leaders were made in anticipation of Catholic Schools Week, which runs from Jan. 29 to Feb. 5.

“Each of these leaders embody the values of education, innovation and service through their stellar contributions to Catholic schools and the wider communities they serve,” said Alexia Kelley, senior policy adviser for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

For Lentz—now the chancellor of the archdiocese—it was the latest honor in a career of making a difference that began when she was a young teacher leading a classroom of 54 students at the former St. Patrick School in Indianapolis in the 1960s.

She later continued that influence as the principal of St. Mark the Evangelist School in Indianapolis from 1977 to 1989—a time during which she also earned a license to drive school buses so she could make a special connection with her students and the regular bus drivers as she substituted on the routes once a week.

Still, her greatest impact as an educator may have come when she served as the executive director of the archdiocesesan Office of Catholic Education and Faith Formation. For more than 12 years, she led a school system in which 25 of the 69 schools in the archdiocese earned recognition as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U. S. Department of Education—a distinction unmatched by any diocese in the country.

“Over the years, I’ve seen Catholic education free children from the limitations of every type of poverty—material or spiritual,” Lentz noted. “In addition to helping children succeed academically, we teach them that it is Christ who gives meaning to their lives. From that simple truth, students learn to respect the dignity of every single person. We can’t make real progress as a society or have justice without this.”

During the ceremony, the honorees shared insights about the successes and challenges that Catholic schools face.

In her remarks, Lentz focused at one point on the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies, a consortium of Catholic schools in the center-city of Indianapolis that work together to cut costs, share resources and offer a faith-based education to students from families with low incomes.

That approach all began with a question, Lentz recalled: “How can we work together so that our children and our families that we serve in the center of the city, in the urban area, are not forgotten, are learning, are treated equally, and are allowed to stay in our schools until they finish and graduate from high school?”

The answer came through the combined commitment of the business community, the clergy in the archdiocese, and the educators in the schools and in the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education, Lentz noted.

Students and their families have also benefitted from Indiana’s school voucher program, she added.

“You cannot do it alone,” Lentz said. “These families appreciate everything you do for them, every minute in which you do them, and there are no regrets.”

Lentz also has no regrets about dedicating most of her life to Catholic education.

“Leadership in our Catholic schools comes in many different forms,” she said. “Yet, at the heart of it is our primary mission of bringing others to Christ. We set a vision for our schools, provide a model of hope and consistency, and work together to be the best we can be. We are servants to each other, and most importantly servants of God.”

Nine other Catholic school leaders honored at White House ceremony

Besides Annette “Mickey” Lentz, the nine other Catholic school leaders that were recognized in President Barack Obama’s “Champions of Change” program at the White House on Jan. 25 are:

  • Bertha Castanada, a senior at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington.
  • Jesuit Father Charles Currie, former president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
  • Jesuit Father John Foley, founder of Cristo Rey schools, the successful work-study program at 24 Catholic schools across the United States, including Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis.
  • Holy Family Sister Jennie Jones, a principal who has served recently at Catholic schools in New Orleans.
  • Paul Krebbs, president of All Hallows High School in the Bronx, N.Y.
  • Minim Daughters of Mary Immaculate Sister Rosa-Maria Ruiz, superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz.
  • Yvonne Schwab, principal of St. James the Less Catholic School in Columbus, Ohio.
  • Joseph Womac, executive director of the Fulcrum Foundation in Seattle, Wash., a foundation that raises money to help low-income students attend Catholic schools in Washington.
  • Jesuit Father William Leahy, president of Boston College. †

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