January 12, 2018

Award winner leads outreach embraced by men’s club, parish

By John Shaughnessy

At 78, Gary Ahlrichs mentors a high school student who is a refugee from Africa.

The grandfather of 11 is also helping a 75-year-old woman learn to read through an Indianapolis literacy program.

And he tutors a fourth-grade student at St. Anthony School in Indianapolis.

“I guess it’s because I’ve been so lucky, and life has been so good to me,” says Ahlrichs, a recipient of the archdiocese’s 2018 Celebrating Catholic School Values Career Achievement Award. “At some point, you have to give back. It’s the right thing to do. I feel it keeps me connected to the world. And it gives me pleasure.”

So does seeing how so many people in the men’s group of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis work together to make a difference in the lives of at-risk children at St. Anthony School.

When Ahlrichs helped re-start the parish’s men’s group in 2001, then-pastor Father Jeffrey Godecker suggested the group have an outreach mission, which spurred Ahlrichs’ desire to help a Catholic school in the inner city.

Seventeen years later, that commitment continues as the men’s group and other parish members have painted, raised funds, cooked lunches, granted scholarships, performed maintenance, bought sports equipment, conducted health screenings and provided support for artistic and musical programs at St. Anthony.

It’s why Ahlrichs doesn’t view the Career Achievement Award as a personal honor, but as an honor for the men’s group and even the parish.

“When you see all these things going on, it gives you a good feeling,” he says. “It’s gotten beyond the men’s group. It’s more of a parish mission now.”

Ahlrichs’ dedication to his parish has always been his mission. The father of five has coached boys’ and girls’ basketball in the Catholic Youth Organization. He’s led the parish’s blood drive, served on the parish council, and been an usher, a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion during Masses at Immaculate Heart of Mary.

And he and his wife of 56 years, Shirley, were sponsors for engaged couples for more than 20 years.

“I’ve always believed that if you belong to something, you need to do something,” he says. “I feel extremely blessed to be a part of this parish. I love being involved with the community.”

He also appreciates the difference that 16 years of Catholic education have made in his life—and how that faith-based approach has left its mark on their children.

“We tried to establish a Catholic spiritual home life,” he says. “And we felt that Catholic schools echoed that and made it stronger. It was expensive at times, but we never questioned it.”

He wants that same gift for the children at St. Anthony School.

“A couple of things come with a Catholic education. One is the discipline. One is the environment of Christian values. For these kids to be in a Catholic‑Christian environment day in and day out makes a difference in their lives. They’re going to have to make some tough decisions in life, and this environment will help them make those decisions.”

That goal keeps motivating Ahlrichs.

“The idea of sharing your experiences with young people—and helping them—is a good reason to get out of bed in the morning.” †

(Related: ‘Jeopardy!’ champion will speak at 22nd annual Celebrating Catholic School Values program)

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