Jennifer Barton
January 29, 2021 // Diocese

The Catholic school value proposition: faith and family

Jennifer Barton

There is power in a community pulling together to bring love, comfort and support to those of its members who are hurting and in need. Bethany Dick has witnessed this outpouring of care not for herself, but for others. And she is exceedingly grateful for that community – the Catholic school community of Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne.

Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been a tough school year for Bishop Dwenger. November saw the sudden passing of freshman student and athlete Clayten Stuart, plunging the school into mourning over the tragic loss. Additionally, a handful of school parents have engaged in personal battles with cancer this year. Through it all, Dick said, “I can’t even explain how amazing the community has been.”

Dick played a supportive role for the families. She describes the fundraising events, memorials and prayers that sprouted from roots of love within the Bishop Dwenger family. “I think this last year, people realized that Dwenger isn’t just about sports; that we really are a family community, or a community of families.”

Clayten was an avid football player. His death spread sadness throughout the Bishop Dwenger community and beyond.

Clayten was an avid football player and played on the freshman football team. He had friends at numerous schools in the area, including crosstown rival Bishop Luers High School. “He was an amazing kid. I’ve known him since third grade,” Dick said. “He was tenacious on the field and off. And he always had people laughing.” 

The deluge of compassion for him was overwhelming. While he was in the hospital on the Thursday evening before his death, Bishop Dwenger head football coach Jason Garrett led a Divine Mercy Chaplet on the football field before the crucifix “and all these people showed up,” Dick said. Throughout Clayten’s hospitalization, Dick kept Garrett updated on Clayten’s condition through daily text messages. 

After his passing, the Bishop Dwenger community continued to show love and support to his family. A group of moms began to find ways of honoring Clayten. One decided to make a bracelet for Clayten’s mother, which snowballed into classmates clamoring for the bracelets, emblazoned with his jersey number, 34. 

Dick helped organize a celebration of life for Clayten. One of the managers at Kelley Chevrolet, where her husband works, donated pizzas; Jimmy Rongos, president of Ziano’s Italian Eatery, donated breadsticks; the remainder of the food was donated by parents. More than 270 people attended, some from as far away as Indianapolis, including some from both Bishops Dwenger and Bishop Luers, as well as local public school students who knew Clayten through various sports programs.

All of this took place around the same time that Chanin Henry, a Bishop Dwenger mother, was admitted to the hospital for over a month for cancer treatments. To help the family with medical expenses, Dick worked with Kelli Stopher to arrange an evening of prayer and silent auction. What started out as a basket raffle for 20-30 projected female attendees quickly came to include over 300 people. Once again, donations poured in for things like food and auction items and a “huge spread” was put together for $300, with food left over. 

“I’m still to this day trying to figure out how we fed that many people,” Dick remarked. “And without even three weeks of planning, we got it all done. We raised triple what we thought we would make. I cry every time I look at the pictures, I think, ‘How did that happen?’ And I know it wasn’t me. I was just the vessel.”

The Bishop Dwenger community supported Henry in other ways as well. Dick described how parents came together to work on Henry’s house when she was in the hospital. “There were people from Dwenger there every day,” she said. A separate Divine Mercy Chaplet was said for Henry prior to one of the football games this season. Some spectators even believed that they saw an angel in the sunset-tinged clouds overhead.

Photos provided by Bethany Dick
A large group of students gathers at Shields Field outside Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne last year to pray for the health of sophomore Clayten Stuart in the days before he died. Friends of Clayten from Bishop Dwenger and Bishop Luers High School showed solidarity and support for the Stuart family.

The school’s nickname is the “Saints,” and Dick believes strongly in the intervention of the saints at the school this year, pointing to St. Philomena, St. Jude, St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother as sources of personal comfort and aid during these difficult times. She said she felt that the support of the faithful at Bishop Dwenger is something special that cannot be found in every school. 

“I just feel that the Catholic education envelopes those kids and it shows them that God is real. Just because you can’t see Him doesn’t mean He’s not there.”

Dick has been an extended member of the Bishop Dwenger family since the 1980s, when her nieces and nephews attended. She became a Bishop Dwenger parent in 2003 when her oldest son attended. As a convert to Catholicism, she recognized the importance of structure that Catholic schools could offer her children — a structure she herself had not grown up with. 

She was introduced to St. Jude Parish in Fort Wayne in 1993 and felt drawn into it, joining a preparation class for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and sending her three children through Catholic school there. Her youngest son is now a freshman at Bishop Dwenger.

For Dick, Catholic education reaches far beyond textbooks. From her early days at St. Jude, she has learned a great deal about her faith from those around her. Even in the last year, her personal devotion to the saints and understanding of the power of the rosary has increased. 

She appreciates even the smallest things about Catholic schools, such as the uniforms that equalize every student. 

More than anything, it is the connections she and her children have made through the schools that Dick finds the most significant part of the Catholic school experience – relationships that last a lifetime. The faith example of other Bishop Dwenger parents has changed her for the better, she said, and her children who have graduated still maintain friendships with high school classmates. 

For her children and others who attend the school, she remarked: “I hope they understand how blessed they are to go to Dwenger.”

It hasn’t always been easy for Dick to put three children through Catholic schools, but she believes so strongly in the value of Catholic education that she, like many parents, is willing to make the sacrifices that are necessary. “I worked two jobs to send my kids by myself … I was a single parent the entire time. … In my eyes, it was totally worth it.”

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