Van Benten, Hurrle and Schmoll honored at Father Tom Day Mass

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Scecina is proud to be named after Father Thomas Scecina, whose life story continues to inspire people worldwide.

Father Tom was a priest with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who served God and his country as a military chaplain during World War II before perishing at sea with other U.S. prisoners of war in 1944.

This tragic event also serves as a powerful example and reminder of Christian faith in action.

On November 8, 2023, Scecina faculty, staff, students, alumni, veterans, and friends honored Father Tom at our annual Father Tom Day Mass. Lee Ann Van Benten, Ott Hurrle ’70, and Tony Schmoll ’77 were all presented with the Father Tom Service award for their countless contributions to Scecina. We also honored alumni veterans and veteran friends of Scecina. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful way to bring the community together.

Enclosed you will find images and remarks from President Therber’s speech commemorating the day.

November 8, 2023

Scecina President Joe Therber’s Father Tom Day Opening Remarks

Thank you, Nicolas, for opening our time together.

Along with sharing about Father Tom, I want to extend a welcome from all of us at Scecina to our special guests . . .

  • Students and educators from the East Deanery schools of St. Philip Neri, Little Flower, Our Lady of Lourdes, and Holy Spirit
  • Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Dr. Brian Disney
  • Family members and friends of our three Father Tom Service Award honorees
  • Members of the Scecina Board of Directors
  • Military service personnel from the Scecina community.
  • And thank you to Fr. Jim, Fr. Bob, Deacon Mike Braun, our liturgical ministers, Mr. Potts, Ms. Millard, and everyone on our staff who assisted in planning this morning.

The Dean of the East Deanery and pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Fr. Rick Ginther, planned to join us today but is not feeling well. He sends his greetings to everyone and his congratulations to our service award honorees whom we’ll recognize after Mass.

The words that Nicolas just quoted from the readings that we will hear today . . . “Loving our neighbors as ourselves, taking up one’s cross, saving one’s life by giving it for Jesus’ sake . . .” These words illustrate the ministry of the person for whom our school is named, Father Thomas Scecina.

Only 79 years ago this Fall, on October 24 to be exact, a tragic event happened that has also become a blessing for us. On that day, Father Thomas Scecina – an Indiana native who served in parish ministry just a few miles from here and who then voluntarily joined the United States Army as a chaplain – and about 1,800 fellow World War II prisoners of war boarded the Arisan Maru prisoner ship and were attacked at sea.

As a chaplain, Father Tom was not required to board the ship, yet he willingly accompanied his fellow prisoners because he was, to use images from our school setting, their schoolmate, their classmate, their teammate.

Nearly all the prisoners, including Father Tom, died a slow and terrifying death that day as the ship broke into pieces and went down. Imagine the fear and a sense of no way out from now until early this afternoon.

If faced with the same circumstances, what would each of us do?

Fortunately, a handful of prisoners survived. When interviewed and asked what the attack and the sinking were like, the handful of survivors told of an inspiring Catholic priest who, rather than jump to find safety and rather than retreat into himself, tended to the spiritual needs of others to receive their prayers and convey God’s mercy and desire to spend eternity with them.

Here in front of us are Father Tom’s military service medals that illustrate his faith, service, courage, and sacrifice, as well as the respect of our nation.

This is the story of why, when the Archdiocese of Indianapolis was seeking a name for this school in the early 1950s that would motivate all those who would follow, including us today, to remember and imitate the Gospel values of service, sacrifice, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, they chose the fitting name of Scecina . . . Memorial . . . High School.

Now, please stand and greet one another as we prepare to celebrate this Eucharist together.

President Joe Therber’s remarks during Father Tom Service Award Celebration

We’ll now begin our recognitions. Just like Father Tom, members of the United States military services have a burning call to service so that others may live, and live safely.

Students – of Scecina and the East Deanery grade schools – if you have a family member who is serving or has served in our military services, or who is a first responder – for example, a policeman/woman, firefighter, emergency medical technician, healthcare worker, or other form of first responder – would you please stand so that we can affirm your family and you?

In the same spirit, if you are an active or retired member of the United States military services, or a current student who has already committed to the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines after high school, please stand.

I also want to recognize Scecina alumnus Gary Gilliam from the Scecina Class of 1966 and a member of the United States Marine Corps, whose inspiring book, “So Help Me God,” shares his experiences during the Vietnam War and the inspiration that Father Tom has had in his life.

With Veterans Day approaching this Saturday, we want all military service personnel – past, present, and future – to know of our gratitude for your service.

We have a school tradition of presenting the Father Tom Service Award to a person (1) who believes deeply in the importance of Scecina Memorial High School, and (2) who lives the motto that is attributed to Father Tom of doing all that one can and then “giving that little extra.”

This year, it is a pleasure for Dr. Dispenzieri and me to present the Father Tom Service Award to three outstanding people in Scecina’s ministry.

Our honorees have stood with Scecina and our Eastside parishes for more than 150 combined years.

The order of our recognition will be ladies first and then alphabetical order for the men.

Our first honoree is Mrs. Lee Ann Van Benten.

Mrs. Van Benten and her family have been members of Eastside parishes since the early 1980’s. Her husband, Mark, and she were marriage preparation sponsor couples for many engaged couples, including my wife and me, which is how Mrs. Van Benten and I first met in 1987.

During many conversations in the Van Bentens’ home, my wife and I took note of Mrs. Van Benten’s caring spirit, humor, and love that permeated her household.

Mrs. Van Benten’s two children are Scecina alumni.

After teaching special education, reading, and English for many years in Warren Township, Mrs. Van Benten brought her passion for teaching children of all learning styles to Scecina in 2016, which continued until her retirement last year.

Mrs. Van Benten was also an assistant girls tennis coach here at Scecina.

During her years of teaching at Scecina, Mrs. Van Benten brought a commitment for all students each and every day. She has great instincts about what students need, and she would often think deeply about the best way to approach a situation. She knew when to be patient and understanding, and when to say it was time to say, “Let’s get things in gear.”

In 2004, when Mrs. Van Benten’s son was a sophomore at Scecina, her husband died suddenly. Our community lost a special person that day. She has always been grateful for the rallying of support that her family received from Scecina during that time.

In Mrs. Van Benten’s words, “Receiving the Father Tom Award is such an honor. I am humbled. Father Tom was the epitome of character, faith, and God’s love. I am also humbled to be honored with Coaches Hurrle and Schmoll. These gentlemen are of great character and live God’s word.”

“I advocated for all students including students with special needs and who needed reading instruction. Students need to understand that being like Father Tom is not giving their life up, but doing the simple things to glorify God and encourage peers. It can be as simple as letting someone else at the table have the last piece of candy, or putting a smile on our face when we’ve had a tough day rather than letting the tough day make us cranky or mean toward others.”

Mrs. Van Benten’s relationship with Scecina began 40 years ago. For caring for all children and families, believing deeply in the importance of Scecina, and for giving “The Extra” as Father Tom did, today we present the Father Tom Service Award to Lee Ann Van Benten.

Our second honoree is Mr. Ott Hurrle, a graduate of Saint Andrew the Apostle School and the Scecina Class of 1970. Mr. Hurrle and 7 of his brothers and sisters are all Scecina graduates, as are many of his nieces and nephews, and he has great nieces and great nephews who are graduates or current students.

Mr. Hurrle has served Scecina in many important ways:  As a popular teacher of U. S. History, Economics, Government, and Current Events, as Student Council and Senior Class moderator, as the Alumni and Development Director, as assistant baseball coach and head golf coach, as Dean of Students and Athletic Director, and, in the role that most people associate him with, head football coach.

Coach Hurrle’s football accomplishments at Scecina include coaching numerous sectional and regional team champions, two state runner-up teams, and two state championship teams.

Because of his commitment to sportsmanship and the educational mission of high school football, Coach Hurrle has earned Coach of the Year honors from the Indianapolis Star and the Indiana and American Football Coaches Associations.

Early in my career, I had the good fortune of coaching for Mr. Hurrle. My three sons had Coach Hurrle as their Scecina football coach. They gained first-hand experience of his commitment to sportsmanship, the lifelong lessons that football teaches, and his belief in Scecina, no matter the year, the score, or the team record.

Mr. Hurrle’s relationship with Scecina began more than 60 years ago. For influencing lives in the classroom and on the football field, serving Scecina in many important ways, believing deeply in the importance of Scecina, and for giving “The Extra” as Father Tom did, today we present the Father Tom Service Award to Mr. Ott Hurrle.

Our final honoree is Mr. Tony Schmoll. Tony is a graduate of Little Flower School and a member of the Scecina Class of 1977. His wife, Julie Schmoll of our faculty, their two sons Eric and Kevin, his two sisters, three of Mrs. Schmoll’s siblings, and six of their nieces and nephews are Scecina graduates.

Tony served as a well-respected English teacher at Scecina in the early 1980s and again from 2016 to 2023. During those years, he was an assistant baseball coach, assistant and head wrestling coach, assistant football coach and football scout.

Tony’s service to the Church also includes coaching baseball, football, and wrestling in the Catholic Youth Organization program at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish for many years.

My oldest son and Tony’s younger son are the same age. They were very good friends growing up. Each of my three sons had the fortune of Tony being their football and wrestling coach at Our Lady of Lourdes and Scecina.

His players knew him to be committed to their growth and development, an excellent motivator,  and effective in the ways in which he connected life lessons to the joys and challenges of athletic participation.

In Tony’s words, “Through all of the truly wonderful faculty, staff, and students, Father Tom’s Christlike spirit is displayed as a love of God and God’s creation, a love of fellow man, a willingness to sacrifice one’s time and efforts, just as Father Tom sacrificed to the last full measure, and an effort to live a selfless life.”

Tony’s relationship with Scecina began more than 50 years ago, and he has made countless contributions to our school community in the classroom, the athletic arena, and his friendships. For believing deeply in the importance of Scecina and for giving “The Extra” as Father Tom did, today we present the Father Tom Service Award to Mr. Tony Schmoll.

Thank you, everyone, for joining us today.

Family and friends of the honorees, after we conclude, we invite you to the Collaboration Room in the main hallway for a reception with our honorees.

Dr. Dispenzieri will now conclude our program.

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