June 30, 2017

Special place leads Lentz to destiny—and honor

Annette “Mickey” Lentz receives the Saint Mother Theodore Guérin Award from Providence Sister Dawn Tomaszewski. (Submitted photo)

Annette “Mickey” Lentz receives the Saint Mother Theodore Guérin Award from Providence Sister Dawn Tomaszewski. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

If we’re lucky, there are moments when we see clearly the path of our life—and how a special place along that path put us on the road to our destiny.

For Annette “Mickey” Lentz, such a moment happened on June 3 as the chancellor of the archdiocese traveled west from Indianapolis to a place she considers home—a place where her past, her present and her purpose in life intersected on that spring evening.

As she drove onto the campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in St. Mary-of-the-Woods, the 75-year-old Lentz was returning to her alma mater to be honored by the Sisters of Providence for her longtime commitment to Catholic education, the sisters and the college.

She was also returning to the place that she considers the most influential in her life, a place where the roots of her 56 years—and counting—of service to children, families and the archdiocese took hold most firmly.

“It’s much like going home,” says Lentz, a 1976 graduate of the college who was also taught by the Sisters of Providence in her childhood at the former St. Patrick School in Indianapolis. “I think of how that institution really made me who I am as far as where I am today.”

Smiling, Lentz adds, “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. 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.”

That appreciation flowed from Lentz as she talked in her office, a few days after receiving the Saint Mother Theodore Guérin Companions Award from the Providence sisters during an annual dinner. (Related story: Providence sisters honor supporters)

‘Way beyond the call of duty’

The award is presented in honor of the five sisters who accompanied and supported St. Mother Theodore Guérin as she traveled from France to the United States to establish the educational and faith-filled mission of their order.

In presenting the award to Lentz, Providence Sister Dawn Tomaszewski noted the chancellor’s previous roles as a teacher, a principal and as the head of the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education before stating, “Like all of the Sisters of Providence foundresses, Lentz seems determined to provide education to those most in need.”

The superior general of the Providence sisters shared with the audience of 300 people that Lentz “worked tirelessly” to establish the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies, a consortium of Catholic schools in the center-city of Indianapolis that offers a faith-based education to students from families with low incomes—a consortium that is now known as the Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Academies.

Sister Dawn also praised Lentz for her influence in establishing Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis, a private high school that combines a college preparatory education and a work‑study program for students from low-income families.

Lentz has also “gone way beyond the call of duty in her role as chancellor,” Sister Dawn said.

She noted the “important stability” that Lentz has provided in archdiocesan administration through the retirement of Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein in 2011, the transitional role of Bishop Christopher M. Coyne and the four years of leadership of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin before he became Archbishop of Newark in late 2016.

“She is a steadfast presence,” Sister Dawn said. “Everyone in the archdiocese owes her a debt of thanks, including the Sisters of Providence.”

Honored and humbled by the award, Lentz insists that she’s the one who owes the debt of thanks—to the Sisters of Providence—for the important role they played during a defining time in her life.

‘A sense of pride and gratitude’

After attending two years of college, Lentz had started her teaching career in Catholic schools in Indianapolis in 1961—a time when a college degree and a teacher’s license weren’t required to teach. By 1975, those standards were required, and the then-superintendent of Catholic schools in the archdiocese told Lentz she needed to meet those requirements.

Married with two children, Lentz sought to find a college program that would fit with her life as a teacher, a wife and a mother. She found it in Women’s External Degree (WED) program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

“At that time, you could get your teacher’s license with it,” Lentz recalls. “It was extremely expensive, but it was the only way I felt I could finish school and not do detriment to teaching and the family. And that’s how I did the 38 [credit] hours I needed to graduate. And that’s how I got reconnected with the sisters and the campus. I’ve always said had it not been for the sisters and this program, who knows what would have happened.”

The connection with the Providence sisters grew stronger when she returned to teach at St. Patrick School and taught with some of the members of that religious order. It also continued to grow when she became executive director of Catholic education and faith formation for the archdiocese.

“Then I got involved in the ‘Woods’ and did some advisory work for the sisters,” Lentz says. “So I got very affixed to the Sisters of Providence and then St. Mother Theodore Guérin. All of a sudden, she became my saint, if you will. A lot of the prayers that I focus on are for her to intercede. So that attachment grew.”

The bond is so strong that Lentz considers her college ring as a treasure.

“It’s a source of pride,” she says. “A class ring means you made it, and for a long time I didn’t make it out of college. Not because I wasn’t capable but because the opportunity hadn’t presented itself. Finally, when I did, Jim [her husband] 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.”

Touching the ring, she says, “I think it’s how hard I had to work for it. Jim and I had to really struggle to pay for that and everything that went with it. So it was a sense of pride and gratitude that I was able to do it.”

‘It’s been my life’

She has that same pride and passion for Catholic education, which has been the main focus of her 56 years of service to the archdiocese.

“It’s been my life,” she says. “Somewhere in the middle of being a teacher and transitioning to being a principal, it came to light that I could have such an impact on so many children, parents and teachers—to help them form kids, and help them form themselves. That’s Catholic education. I’ve always believed in it and made it a part of me.”

It’s why the award from the Sisters of Providence means so much to her.

“Many of the sisters I taught with or taught were there,” she says. “So that was another whole emotion. It was like, ‘I hope I made them proud.’ ”

The moment was as moving as another one she experienced this spring—when she watched her granddaughter Paige receive a special honor during her eighth grade graduation from St. Barnabas School in Indianapolis.

“She received a $2,000 scholarship to Roncalli [High School in Indinapolis] that was the Mother Theodore Guérin Award,” Lentz says. “It was for her compassion and work in school—and just always being a faithful follower and learner, just like Mother Theodore Guérin.

“She’ll never understand how much that meant to me. I reminded her afterwards, ‘You know, Grandma is a ‘Woodsie.’ Someday maybe that will resonate with her. It’s been a great connect.” †

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