September 25, 2020

Love of faith and life guides Mickey Lentz in her 60 years of serving the archdiocese

Annette "Mickey" Lentz, chancellor, poses in front of the Archbishop Edward T. O'Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Brandon A. Evans)

Annette "Mickey" Lentz, chancellor, poses in front of the Archbishop Edward T. O'Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Brandon A. Evans)

By John Shaughnessy

Now in her 60th year of serving the archdiocese, Annette “Mickey” Lentz has been honored by an American president for her leadership in Catholic education.

As chancellor of the archdiocese, she has been praised for the stability, insight and institutional knowledge she has provided during the administrations of three archbishops.

She is also highly regarded as a role model, an inspiration and a relentless supporter of women who serve the Church.

Then there are the more personal stories about Lentz—such as the story of how she helped a little girl making her first Communion, and the story of what she did for a single mother of three small children for several Christmases.

Both those stories will be shared soon, but first there’s one that offers a broader look at how Lentz has always tried to combine the elements of faith, family, friendship, joy, resourcefulness and a certain boldness into one guiding approach to her life.

That moment unfolded on Nov. 19, 2016, when her close friend—then-Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin—was just a few hours away from being installed as one of 17 new cardinals by Pope Francis inside St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

As chancellor of the Church in central and southern Indiana, Lentz led 11 people with archdiocesan connections toward a security checkpoint that would provide quick and easy access to a special section of St. Peter’s that was designated for friends and family of the soon-to-be Cardinal Tobin.

There was just one problem.

Only 10 special tickets had been provided. Sizing up the situation in the crowded area, Lentz turned to the 11th person with basically these instructions, “Stay by me, and act like you belong.” Moments later, all 11 entered the special section of the basilica together. Through it all, Lentz smiled. And her smile beamed even brighter when she witnessed her friend become a cardinal. (Related story: Close friendship connects cardinal and chancellor)

“She exudes the joy of the Gospel,” said Archbishop Charles C. Thompson. “It’s something that comes from deep within. Mickey has a joy for life, a zest for life. She loves people. Every encounter is important to her. And every person is important to her.”

The archbishop then shared what he believes is the source of Lentz’s approach to life.

“I really do think the root of her energy and her effectiveness and her service is clearly anchored in her faith. She is a woman of tremendous faith.”

That’s one of the tributes directed toward Lentz, who is scheduled to be honored next year on April 16 during the archdiocese’s first annual Legacy Gala—a celebration benefiting Catholic Charities, Catholic schools and Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis.

Lentz will be recognized for her six decades of service as a teacher, a principal, the executive director of Catholic Education and Faith Formation, and chancellor. As the tributes pour in for her, so do the stories about Lentz.

‘She put our schools on the map’

Lentz was a guest at the White House in 2012, at the invitation of President Barack Obama. She was there to be honored as part of his “Champions of Change” program for embodying “the values of education, innovation and service.”

By then, Lentz was already serving as chancellor, but her impact on Catholic education had continued locally and nationally, an impact that became renown during the more than 12 years she served as the executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education and Faith Formation.

During that time, 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.

She also was instrumental in helping to establish Catholic schools in the center-city of Indianapolis that offer a faith-based education to students from low-income families. That includes Providence Cristo Rey High School and the five Notre Dame ACE Academies in the city.

“She put our schools on the map,” said Msgr. Joseph Schaedel, vicar general of the archdiocese at the time and now pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “I think even now people still look to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for strength in Catholic school education.”

After accepting the honor in the White House that day, Lentz shared part of the philosophy that has guided her: “Have faith, not only in yourself, but those with whom you lead, and in the youth. Realize that they are our hope for the world and the Church.”

For Lentz, it was one more honor in a career of making a difference that began in 1961 when she was a young teacher leading a classroom of 54 students in the former St. Patrick School in Indianapolis.

And she continued that influence as the principal of St. Mark the Evangelist School in Indianapolis from 1977 to 1989—a time during which she 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.

That drive to connect with people has always been at the heart of Lentz’s approach to life, said her daughter, Marcy Dules.

“She’s always been a giver,” said Dules, recalling the days when she and her brother Rob were children. “After I made my first Communion, my mom told me about a little girl who didn’t have a Communion dress. She said, ‘You don’t need it, Marcy.’ I ended up giving this little girl my dress because she didn’t have one.

“She also had a very good friend from high school who was hard-working, but she didn’t have a lot. She was a single mother of three. My mom would take her shopping every year at Christmas so her kids would have something from Santa. At the time, there wasn’t a whole lot of extra money for mom to be doing this.”

That emphasis of being there for the other person would come through in the most challenging time in Lentz’s personal life.

‘She’s an Easter person’

Lentz and her husband Jim were married in 1964. It was a union that led to their two children, and a shared approach to life built on the foundations of faith and family.

“They complemented each other,” their daughter said. “They were always on the same page as far as raising us, as far as our faith and church and family. They even had the same work ethic.”

When Jim became ill with heart and liver problems, Lentz faithfully cared for him in the last years of his life before he died in 1995.

“I always tried to be the one who could fix things, whether it be a kid in my class or my own children,” Lentz once recalled. “In this case, I couldn’t fix it. I wanted to be there for him. He was always there for me. He was always my silent supporter. It was tough. My faith, my kids and my family here [at the archdiocese] stepped up to the plate. I felt their support, and we made it.”

Recalling Lentz’s commitment to her husband, longtime friend Father Daniel Staublin said, “When Jim died, she was sad, but she knew he continued to live on, and she needed to live on. She’s an Easter person. She knows that our faith is a faith of life, ultimately. We know there’s the Resurrection, and it gets us through the crosses of our life. That’s why there’s a joy to her.”

One of Lentz’s most joyful memories of her husband leads her back to a time shortly after she graduated from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in St. Mary-of-the-Woods in 1976. It’s when she got her class ring.

“It’s a source of pride,” said Lentz, who has also earned a master’s degree from Butler University in Indianapolis. “Jim and I didn’t have a lot of money for a ring, but in my heart I always wanted to get it. So right after my first year of being official, Jim got me the money to go purchase the ring. That was meaningful to me.”

The ring of family

Her continuing pride in wearing that ring reflects one of the great connections of her life—to the Sisters of Providence who are the heart of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

“The sisters shaped me from the time they pounded on my knuckles in grade school teaching me piano, to working with them and alongside them. I owe much to the sisters,” she said. “I hope what I’ve been able to give back has been in heart and soul and passion—and care and concern—for those sisters who made a difference in my life and others.”

While the college ring reflects her bond with the sisters, her relationship with the sisters reflects one of the great qualities of Lentz—her ability to connect and nurture people from all the different parts of her life into an ever-growing “extended family.”

That extended family has its roots in the parish of her youth—St. Patrick Parish—and has grown through the years to St. Mark Parish, Roncalli High School, the south side of Indianapolis, across the archdiocese and even across the nation.

“People are very important to me,” Lentz said. “I have always felt that if you treat people with respect and dignity, you earn it back in many ways, and the relationship builds into trust.

“My philosophy is to always work with and for people—not do things to them. I am not afraid to roll up my sleeves and work alongside my friends and colleagues, no matter what position I hold.”

Judy Livingston has been a close friend of Lentz for nearly 45 years, and she has admired the contributions Lentz has made to the archdiocese through the years.

“She’s given her heart, soul and mind to the archdiocese,” Livingston said. “She didn’t move up through the ranks out of ambition, but out of ministry to serve. No job is too big or too small for her. It was always a matter of ‘what more can I do, what more do I have to offer?’ ”

What makes Lentz even more special is that she brings that same approach to her personal relationships, Livingston said.

“She’s a wonderful, faith-filled person who’s loyal and honest. She has a great sense of humor, and she’s a good listener, too. She’s one of the best friends you could have.”

Lentz has also been a relentless advocate for women who serve the Church—and a strong example for everyone who follows that call.

‘It’s incredible the number of lives she’s touched’

Lentz’s perspective has been a crucial one as she has provided stability in archdiocesan administration through the retirement of the late Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein in 2011, the transitional role of Bishop Christopher

M. Coyne, the four years of leadership of now-Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, and the current leadership of Archbishop Thompson.

“She has a wealth of knowledge and history. And she’s been a good adviser and confidante to the archbishops. She’s able to fill them in on the background from the past,” said Jerry Semler, a friend for 25 years.

Semler has served on several boards and has led a number of capital campaigns for the archdiocese. He and his wife Rosie agreed to be among the honorary chairs of the Legacy Gala for one specific reason.

“It’s because of Mickey,” he said. “When we heard she was being honored, it’s our way to say, ‘thank you.’ Her years of dedication to the Catholic Church and her faith are amazing.”

Archbishop Thompson noted, “Even to this day, she has great energy, great passion, great insights. It’s incredible the number of lives she’s touched and the number of institutions she’s impacted within the archdiocese and beyond. She’s well-known beyond the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.”

Gwen Byrd has known Lentz since they first worked together to connect different factions of the National Catholic Educational Association in the early 1990s.

“She knows how to be friends to everybody and so do I, and that’s what brought us together,” said Byrd, the superintendent of Catholic schools and the executive director for Catholic education in the Diocese of Mobile, Ala.

“She’s always been a balanced person, working with the talents of people and bringing out the best in people. She’s always had a direction, and she’s always been able to see everyone else’s direction and bring it together. I think that’s why she’s been able to support different bishops. They recognize that talent in her.”

Gina Fleming recalled the unusual way that she discovered the extensive impact that Lentz had nationally.

“Years ago, I arrived in Orlando, Florida, for a national conference and went for a walk,” said Fleming, a former superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese. “At a traffic light, others and I engaged in polite conversation, learning that we were attending the same conference. As soon as I shared that I was from Indianapolis, these individuals immediately asked, ‘Do you work with Mickey Lentz?’

“They proceeded to share stories about the impact she made on them. As my walk continued, I met two other groups of individuals, with whom two similar conversations around Mickey’s influence ensued.”

As the executive director of the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame, John Staud said, “No one has worked harder and longer and more passionately for Catholic schools. But to her credit, Mickey has never lost her spirit and her knack for finding joy in her work and spreading that joy among the people she encountered.” (Notre Dame leaders praise the national impact of Lentz)

An enduring legacy

That focus on “joy” pervades every conversation about Lentz.

Byrd offered this thought about their friendship of nearly 30 years, even as they live hundreds of miles apart and rarely see each other.

“She’s someone you would never forget and never let go because you don’t get the opportunity to meet someone like her. She really has touched so many people’s lives. You feel good when you see her coming.”

Msgr. Schaedel noted, “If you want to be cheered up, if you want a good laugh, if you want to try to look at a challenging situation in a positive light, go to Mickey.”

Lentz’s daughter believes that the essence of these tributes—and the essence of her mother’s career and life—flows from her childhood growing up in a large family and her desire to keep adding to that sense of family at every turn and every opportunity of her life.

“She’s always wanted to include other people to be part of the group, to be part of the family,” Dules says. “She likes to help people and places grow. She’s always trying to better herself and the people around her. And she loves when she can make it into a social event as well. She likes to have a good time.”

Intertwined with that sense of family is the faith that has always guided her.

“Without my faith, I could not function,” Lentz said. “It’s made me who I am. It’s told me I can put my mind to whatever I want to do. My faith has sustained me throughout my life and has been my one constant. I pray it has a positive impact on my loved ones as well as my colleagues.”

While many people consider Lentz’s 60 years of dedication as a tremendous blessing for the archdiocese, she struggles at first when she’s asked to share her own thoughts on her legacy.

After considerable thought, she does mention “my commitment, passion, spirit and enthusiasm.” She also hopes that “the impact I made in education and faith formation remain hallmarks of the archdiocese.”

Yet when she finally gets close to acknowledging the impact she has had on the archdiocese, she turns the spotlight away from herself and shares it with others: “I am proud of our accomplishments.”

It’s a turn that’s telling. So is this thought from her:

“The archdiocese has had a far greater impact on me than I on it. I’ve had so many grace-filled relationships and experiences. My ministry has shaped my life in so many ways. I am a better person in so many ways. I remain forever grateful.” †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!