January 12, 2018

Family influences shape honorees who strive to build community with their Catholic values

By John Shaughnessy

Celebrating Catholic School Values logoOne of the best ways to understand what really matters to someone is to ask about the people who have greatly influenced his or her life.

Ody Oruche immediately shares the story of the influence that his grandfather had on him as he was growing up in the African country of Nigeria.

Although his grandfather didn’t have any formal education, he listened intently as an Irish priest serving in their African community stressed the need to build Catholic schools for the children. So his grandfather and others donated the land and the labor to build the schools, and provided help to keep them operating.

Through those schools and through his grandfather’s example, Oruche has embraced a defining way to live his life.

“We are put on this Earth to build communities,” says Oruche, now a member of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis. “That education, more than anything else, taught me how to build communities.

“It’s not about you. It’s about what you can do for others and your community.”

That approach marks the lives of Oruche and the three other recipients of the archdiocese’s 2018 Celebrating Catholic School Values Career Achievement Award who will be honored on Feb. 22: Gary Ahlrichs of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis, and Dan and Jan Megel of St. Mary Parish in North Vernon.

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

Ever since Oruche arrived in Indianapolis in 1990, he’s been helping to build communities in the Church in southern and central Indiana and back in his homeland of Nigeria.

At St. Andrew Parish, he has prepared children for their first Communion for 10 years and served as chairman of the finance council for 20 years.

He is a loyal supporter of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis where his two children have graduated and where he was a member of the board of regents for eight years.

He also served for 15 years on the archdiocese’s development and loan fund committee, helping parishes, schools and agencies complete their capital projects.

“My focus has always been, ‘I’m going to make myself and my family better, but I’m also going to make my community better. If the big community is not better off, it does not matter what happens to my family.’ ”

His idea of his bigger family continues to include his homeland.

He has always been involved in the Nigerian community in central Indiana, helping to form and serving as the president of the Umunna Cultural Association of Indianapolis—“the oldest and most publicly active African organization in central Indiana.”

He and his wife Ukamaka—and often their children—also return at least once a year to Nigeria.

“We take medicine and supplies,” he says. “We’ve opened a primary care center for people who can’t afford it, through fundraisers from me and my wife and other family members. It’s year-round fundraising. Now we’re looking at some kind of food distribution to families. We’ve realized medicine is not enough if people go to bed hungry.”

It’s a goal he shares with his wife.

“She’s my rock for over 30 years, providing a loving and peaceful home and allowing me to serve my diverse communities. We’re from the same small town. We met when I went back in 1984.”

It’s all part of a history that connects him to Nigeria and Indianapolis, a connection in which Catholic education has always played a huge role for him.

“It’s given our children the full balance about what life is about—community service, competition and camaraderie through sports, education, faith and being a good human being—a holistic person.

“I’ve always liked the idea that you could take a child from a wealthy home and a child from a poor home, and put them in uniforms, and no one would know they were different. It opens those children to understanding other people. If you can understand people and tolerate them, then we can solve any problem on this planet. If we can’t do that, we won’t be able to get anywhere.” †

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