April 29, 2016

‘What life and love is all about’: A special love guides Bernie Price as she directs young people in sports and faith

For more than 40 years, Bernie Price has worked for the archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Organization and has led the high school youth group at Good Shepherd Parish in Indianapolis. Here, she is pictured in the center of five former members of the youth group who now play volleyball together in the archdiocese’s Young Adult Ministry sports program. Katie Mracna, left, Zach Burns, Stacia Smith, Amanda Hubenthal and Greg Kocher reunite with Price. (Submitted photo)

For more than 40 years, Bernie Price has worked for the archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Organization and has led the high school youth group at Good Shepherd Parish in Indianapolis. Here, she is pictured in the center of five former members of the youth group who now play volleyball together in the archdiocese’s Young Adult Ministry sports program. Katie Mracna, left, Zach Burns, Stacia Smith, Amanda Hubenthal and Greg Kocher reunite with Price. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

There are more than a few “great loves” in the life of Bernie Price, and one is passionately on display mere minutes after a championship game in the archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO).

The two girls’ volleyball teams have just finished a well-played, intense championship that has left one group of seventh- and eighth-grade girls beaming and jumping in joy while the other team slumps off the court, with some of the girls crying.

In the midst of these polar opposite emotions, Price soon gathers the two teams together in her official role as the CYO’s director of girls’ athletics. She is there to present trophies to the two teams, and she has always lived for this moment during her 42 1/2 years of joyous, give-everything-you-have dedication to serving the CYO and the children and youths of the archdiocese.

After she brings the teams together, Price privately tells them how proud she is of their efforts during the game and the season. Then she has them turn around and look at everyone in the stands because she wants the fans “to see how great these kids are.”

When the girls do, Price’s voice rises—“loudly,” she admits. And with no need of a microphone, she roars, “If anyone wants their money back, you’re not going to get it because you’ve gotten your money’s worth and more.” And her eyes turn again to the girls on both teams.

“When you make it this far and you work that hard, there are no losers for me.”

‘You can do this!’

Here’s another “great love” story from the life of Price—one that comes to light in a pitch-black cavern in Kentucky.

At the time—in 2014—the then-63-year-old Price was traveling with the high school youth group from Good Shepherd Parish in Indianapolis, a group she has led for about 40 years.

During those four decades, Price has established an amazing connection of friendship and support between the Good Shepherd youths and the youths at the Damar Homes in Indianapolis who are developmentally and behaviorally challenged. But this outing to Kentucky was an adventure for the Good Shepherd youths, an adventure that included zip-lining through the pitch-black cavern—90 feet above the cavern floor.

Looking into the minimally-lit black void ahead and below, the teenagers weren’t exactly pressing forward to be the first to go hurtling into the abyss. A few even asked, in shaky voices, “Are we going to do this?” To which Price responded, “I’m going first. Watch me. I can do this. You can do this!”

And then she was off.

“It was heart-racing,” she recalls. “There was a lot of adrenaline and a lot of fun. And everybody ended up doing it. I love that age group because I can still run with them.”

A passion for people

More than 40 years of dedication to the CYO.

More than 40 years of leading a parish youth group as a volunteer.

Yet, both those tremendous examples of service don’t even come close to the total commitment that Price makes to the lives of others and to her Catholic faith, says Ed Tinder, the longtime executive director of the archdiocese’s CYO.

“Every single day, she’s the first one in the office and the last one to leave,” Tinder says. “Most of her time is spent juggling a multitude of responsibilities. But her work is just one small part of her different involvements. Of the 365 evenings a year, she’s involved in some effort 80 percent of those evenings. She has run more fundraisers and been involved in more fundraisers than anybody.”

Tinder then shares a lengthy yet partial list of her involvement: spearheading fundraisers for Damar, Central Catholic School, St. Paul Hermitage and the Benedictine sisters at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove; leading trips for senior citizens from Good Shepherd; and serving on an advisory board for a college fraternity.

“And she runs the gym here at the CYO Center from September to April,” Tinder continues. “She gets the nachos ready, pops the popcorn, keeps the clock, works in the concession stand, cooks the lunch for the science fair judges. And she single-handedly organizes our music contest for about 900 participants.”

All while leading the efforts to make CYO sports possible for 5,000 girls in seven sports.

“You can easily get wrapped up in the details of that organizing, but Bernie is different than most people would ever be,” Tinder says. “She’s extremely aware of the faces and the hearts of the people we serve. She is so concerned for the kids, the families and the coaches. It all boils down to this: She is passionate and caring about people.”

That passion and caring lead to another story of one of her great loves.

‘You want to be her best friend’

“I believe that if you push the right buttons, you can bring out the best in anyone,” Price says.

“There’s a guy in our youth group who is going to graduate from Roncalli [High School in Indianapolis] this year. He has special needs. His name is Emry Himes. We call him ‘Big E.’ Everyone loves Big E. He played on our CYO high school basketball team. In one of our last games, he scored eight points in two minutes, including a three-pointer. The crowd went crazy. I think he would have gotten lost in the parish if he hadn’t been part of our youth group. He’s done everything on his own merit.”

It’s the kind of story that leads Price’s good friend Patty Armbruster to say, “She really gets the kids.”

At 15, Celia Ward believes she gets the essence of Price.

“She has inspired me in so many ways by giving up her time to me, my family and so many different charities,” says Celia, a member of the Good Shepherd youth group. “She donated money for scholarships so me and my little brother could go to Camp Rancho Framasa [the CYO camp in Brown County] last year. She makes me laugh, and she makes me smile. She’s not perfect, but she’s close enough.”

Price also has a fondness for the children and youths who benefit from Damar Services, says Donna Stutler, the development director for Damar.

“It was real important for her to find a good cause for children helping children,” says Stutler about the longtime relationship that Price has cultivated between Good Shepherd Parish and Damar. “Many of the kids from Good Shepherd who have gone through that experience have gone on to study child development and mental health counseling in college. Some of them have come to work here. That says a lot.

“Everyone here knows Bernie. Bernie is like a magnet. She’s very passionate, someone you want to be around. You meet her and you want to be her best friend.”

That sentiment leads to one more story about Price—the story of the great love of her life.

‘What life and love is all about’

When Bernie first met Jack Price at a party, she was attracted to his intelligence and his sensitivity.

It also didn’t hurt his cause that her mother took an immediate liking to him when he showed up for his first date with Bernie—a date that included taking her mom shopping. In fact, the shopping trip ended with Jack strapping a new rocking chair for Bernie’s mom to the top of his Ford Mustang.

For more than 40 years, Bernie was married to Jack, whom she describes as the person “who will always have first place in my heart and soul.” Then heartbreak struck. At 64, Jack unexpectedly collapsed on Dec. 21, 2011. He died three days later on the morning of Christmas Eve.

During Jack’s time in the hospital, his doctor handed Jack’s wedding band to Bernie. She remembers how the ring gave her “such a sense of closeness and comfort” as she dealt with Jack’s death, viewing it as a symbol of “what life and love is all about.”

Five years later, she often wears the ring.

“I actually had the ring re-made for myself to fit my finger,” she says. “The jeweler, Frank Mascari, put a sapphire stone in the middle of it. I didn’t want to let it sit in a drawer when I can wear it. I think it’s a great tribute to both of us.”

Their bond endures in another special way.

“You don’t get through every day and enjoy what you’re doing if you don’t have faith,” she says. “I’ve always had faith, but the turning point where it hit me was when Jack passed away. He was so spiritual. If there’s one person in the world who was prepared to die, it was Jack. I have this little prayer I say to him every night. And he still makes it a lot easier for me because I know he’s watching me and saying, ‘You keep going, Bernie! You got this!’ ”

So she keeps going.

She keeps connecting youths of different abilities, helping them live their faith.

She keeps touching the lives of children who are involved in the CYO, all the time praising the people she works with: “This is a great team. We all click so well. It’s perfect.”

She keeps finding time to support the great loves of her life because of the great love she has known in her life.

“When I get to the point that I can’t keep up, I’ll step aside,” she says. “I’ll be 65 in June, and I think I’m in my prime. You know where that’s coming from? Jack Price.” †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!