April 11, 2014

Spirit of Service winners show humor, harmony

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By John Shaughnessy

Larry Heil shows his sense of humor when he recalls his introduction to singing in a church choir.

Remembering how a priest asked for his help with a folk music group at a state penitentiary, Heil notes, “I told him I couldn’t sing. He said that was not important. He just needed someone to be there with the folk group so they would not break into a fight during Mass [because] they often had short tempers.

“So I made the prison my church, and we had fun and got good after a while. I really enjoyed it. I really think God has a great sense of humor.”

Billy Cross also had an interesting introduction to the connection between music and faith. When his grandmother distributed Communion to people in nursing homes, she brought Billy along to have the then-4-year-old boy play his violin.

“She also had me play at church and help at food banks and shelters,” recalls Cross, now 18. “I just kept up the tradition of helping people, and now it comes naturally to me.”

That sense of harmony in the lives of Heil and Cross is also reflected in the lives of Art and Ann Berkemeier and Michael and Mary Ann Browning—from the shared standpoint of their tremendous efforts to offer help and hope to others.

That’s why these six people will be honored by the archdiocese and Catholic Charities Indianapolis during the Spirit of Service Awards Dinner on April 30 at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis.

Here are the stories of this year’s recipients:

Larry Heil

From his start in the prison folk group in Oregon 30 years ago, Heil has continued singing—in recent years joining the Hispanic choir at his home parish of Holy Spirit in Indianapolis.

“We have two groups at church—Anglo and Hispanic—and it’s never been a natural mixing,” says Heil, 57. “I felt challenged to see if I could become a bridge. It’s been great.”

Heil not only sings the Spanish lyrics, he can now speak Spanish, after a few years of studying the language. That extra commitment reflects how he lives his faith through a diverse approach of service to others.

A former Peace Corps volunteer, he is involved in the parish’s Honduras mission ministry. An engineer, he has done extensive construction work at Holy Spirit. He is also a team manager for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, an organization he has served for 25 years.

“When I go out on the St. Vincent de Paul trucks, there are youths helping, and some of them have lost their dads, so it gives me a chance to talk with them and do good work, too,” says the father of three. “I see God there. Just to get those trucks out and serve the clients is an ongoing miracle because we’re all volunteers.”

He and his wife of 22 years, Teresa, have also been the lead couple for the parish’s marriage preparation program for 15 years.

“I love meeting with the couples,” he says. “I think it keeps my wife and I fresh to see these couples in love who have these challenges, and to share with them how normal those challenges are, and to be an encouragement to them.

“I feel like everything I’m doing comes from God challenging me. When I pray, God leads me to where I should go. I do believe God has things prepared for us. Our challenge is to listen and be responsive.”

Billy Cross

While Cross continues to touch the lives of the elderly through his music at nursing homes, the 18-year-old Youth Spirit of Service Award recipient makes his biggest impact on children and teenagers.

He helps teach a Sunday morning religious education class for first to third grade children at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. He assists with retreats for the parish’s eighth grade students and confirmation candidates. A longtime altar server, he teaches and oversees younger servers.

“I feel like helping kids know their faith is important,” says Cross, the oldest of three children of William and Christine Cross. “A lot of adults tend to stray from their faith because they don’t fully understand their faith. So teaching them about their faith will make them stronger in their faith when they are adults.”

An extraordinary minister of holy Communion, he savors carrying the cross toward the altar at the beginning of Mass.

“I’m carrying the symbol of our faith, what our faith is about.”

He also lives that faith by babysitting at Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis and volunteering at the Cathedral Soup Kitchen.

It’s a commitment the senior at Southport High School is hoping to continue at Marian University in Indianapolis, where he plans to prepare for a future as a youth director.

While Cross is honored by the Youth Award, he views it as an extension of the inspiration for service that he has learned at St. Mark’s.

“I don’t do what I do to get an award or recognition,” he says. “I do it because I think it’s what God wants me to do. We are called to help people in their time of need, and that’s the sole reason I volunteer.”

Art and Ann Berkemeier

He says that she is “hands-on.” She says that he is “analytical.”

They both joke that their different approaches to service mean they don’t see each other often.

Yet the reality is that Art and Ann Berkemeier seem to be a wonderful complement to each other, a bond marked by 40 years of marriage, four children, three grandchildren and a shared belief in the motto, “If you believe in something, get involved in it.”

They have lived that belief in their volunteer efforts for the archdiocese, the community and their parish, St. Mark the Evangelist in Indianapolis.

Ann leads a group of about 20 retirees who volunteer weekly at the food pantry at the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Indianapolis, repackaging food from bulk pallets to individual packages for clients. Art coordinates the computer technology efforts at the pantry, and has established a computer training center there.

Art has served on the boards of the archdiocese’s Serra Club, Catholic Community Foundation and the Bishop Simon Brute Seminary. Ann has been a volunteer greeter for the recent Super Bowl in Indianapolis, the chairperson for the parish’s welcoming committee and a caretaker for parishioners in need.

Both Ann and Art have been involved in the parish’s Catholic Youth Organization efforts. And they both have served in so many ways in the parish that its pastor, Father Todd Riebe, says, “Art and Ann have demonstrated the value of Christian charity through personal involvement. They don’t just talk about it. They know how to get things done.”

They also share a belief about how their service has blessed them.

“You get so much from helping others—the gratitude, the warm feelings,” Ann says.

“It changes you,” Art says. “You really start to see God in the people you help. There’s great joy in that.”

Michael and Mary Ann Browning

At a young age, Mary Ann Browning became influenced by many people “who worked tirelessly and donated their time or sometimes their entire lives to help people in need.

“Whether it was Mother Teresa or my neighbor next door, I felt strongly that they all made a difference in their own way,” she says. “I was so moved by all I learned that I wanted to do more. We all need to help and set an example for our children to continue with our efforts.”

That approach has guided Mary Ann and Michael Browning in their extensive efforts to create a more caring and more vibrant community throughout the archdiocese and Indiana.

Their efforts have also earned the couple this year’s Community Spirit of Service Award.

“In every charitable effort they have been involved with through the years, they have encouraged and modeled a spirit of Christian giving and service,” says David Bethuram, agency director of Catholic Charities Indianapolis.

Parents of six children, the Brownings were instrumental in the capital campaign of Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis. Mary Ann has been active on the boards of Meals on Wheels, the ALS Association of Indiana and Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis. She has also served on the advisory board of the archdiocese’s Secretariat of Catholic Charities.

A 1968 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Michael Browning has left his mark on the physical, economic and civic growth of Indianapolis as the chairman of Browning Investments, an Indianapolis-based real estate development company.

He led the negotiations which resulted in the relocation of the NCAA Headquarters to Indianapolis. He has also served on the boards of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Indianapolis Economic Development Commission and St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care.

The couple’s Catholic faith has guided them in their efforts to make a difference.

“Faith in God has everything to do with helping others,” Mary Ann says. “You put your faith in Jesus because you believe and trust that he is our life, and he is the son of our father in heaven.” †


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