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24 local people to receive papal honors
Honorees to get Benemerenti Medal, Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice
By Roxanne King
Pope Benedict XVI has named three couples and 18 individuals of the Denver Archdiocese to receive papal honors, the Archbishop’s Office announced last week. For the first time in a quarter century, one of the 24 is from a different faith tradition.
Attorney Charles Goldberg, 70, is Jewish. He is one of four individuals who will receive the Benemerenti (“To a Well Deserving Person”) Medal.
Three deacons and their wives and 14 individuals will receive the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (“For the Church and Pontiff”). The two awards, equivalent in honor, are given for exceptional service to the Church.
Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., made the nominations through the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. The nunciature, the embassy of the Holy See in the United States, reviews each candidate’s qualifications and then forwards appropriate names to the Vatican’s secretariat of state for further review.
Worthy candidates are then recommended to the pope, who grants the honors.
With the exception of a Cross Pro Ecclesia awarded to Nancy Walla in 2006, it is the first time such awards have been made in the archdiocese in five years. Archbishop Chaput re-instituted the practice of nominating laypersons, religious and deacons for pontifical recognition during the Jubilee Year 2000.
The number of local persons who may be nominated for the Holy Father’s consideration in any given year is strictly limited. The Holy See granted a variance to the archdiocese this year due the significant number of individuals who deserved recognition.
The awards will be conferred by Archbishop Chaput during the 6:30 p.m. Mass Nov. 7 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. One honoree who works in archdiocesan charitable ministries asked to remain anonymous for personal reasons. That award will be made privately.
Distinguished senior partner with Rothgerber, Johnson & Lyons LLP and former Denver District Court judge, Goldberg serves as general counsel for the archdiocese. For more than two decades he has provided legal guidance to the local Church. He has also defended the Church in other dioceses, provided national counsel to the U.S. bishops through the association of diocesan attorneys, and offered guidance on legislation vital to the Church in the Colorado General Assembly.
“He has a deep regard for the Church and a thorough understanding of Catholic life and belief,” Archbishop Chaput wrote in nominating Goldberg. “He has earned the esteem of all in the Church who have worked with him.”
Earlier this year, Goldberg received the Civis Princeps (First Citizen) award from Regis University. He is listed in the Best Lawyers in America 2008-2010 editions. Married to Honey, Goldberg is from a respected Colorado publishing family (Intermountain Jewish News).
“In my 17 years with the diocese, this is the first non-Catholic to be so honored with pontifical recognition,” Chancellor Francis X. Maier told the Denver Catholic Register. “In fact, it’s the first such award in the archdiocese to someone outside the Catholic community in more than a quarter century.”
Goldberg said he was deeply touched by the recognition.
“I have said many times over the years that it’s been my honor and personal pleasure to serve not only the archbishop but so many other Catholic bishops, archbishops and cardinals throughout the years of my practice,” he said. “I’ve always felt that in a small way it was my contribution to ecumenical relations—an ecumenical bridge between my faith and other faith traditions that flourish so abundantly in America.
“The award is a momentous occasion not only for me,” he added, “but for Rothgerber, Johnson & Lyons LLP, which has supported the growth of our religious institutions practice over the years.”
Gray, 41, of St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial, is co-founder and president of the Augustine Institute, a graduate school for Catholic lay leaders. An author, national speaker and biblical scholar, Gray is a Scripture professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. He is the former director of the Catholic Biblical School and a former board member of the national Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
“(Gray) expanded and greatly improved our archdiocesan Catholic Biblical School, one of the most successful apostolates in our local Church and a model for similar programs in various other U.S. dioceses,” the archbishop said in his nomination letter.
Gray said the award is confirmation of both the Church’s and God’s blessing on the Church in Colorado.
“It is a joy to serve in exciting organizations that are at the forefront of the new evangelization, whether it is St. John Vianney Seminary, the Denver Catholic Biblical School, or our new graduate school for laypeople—the Augustine Institute,” he said. “I think this award really recognizes the great things being done by these organizations as a whole. I am just blessed to be a part of that.”
Munoz-Visoso, 38, formerly of Spirit of Christ Parish in Arvada, now lives in Washington, D.C., where she serves as assistant director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She founded and served as the first director of El Pueblo Católico, the Spanish-language newspaper of the Denver Archdiocese. Archbishop Chaput then appointed her to head Hispanic Ministry. Her final appointment here was as a co-founder and first director of Centro San Juan Diego, the archdiocese’s center offering pastoral and family care to Hispanic Catholics.
“As a teacher, speaker and writer, she revived our outreach efforts to Colorado’s rapidly growing Latino population,” Archbishop Chaput wrote.
“An award like this is much more than the recognition of a particular individual,” Munoz-Visoso said. “It is a testimony to the community and to the individual people who sustained that person and collaborated to make such work happen. … The medal and scroll may soon hang on my wall, but it is dedicated to them.”
Soto, 37, of St. Joseph Parish in Denver is director of the archdiocese’s Hispanic Ministry program, executive director of Centro San Juan Diego, whose services he expanded, and creator of One Family Under God, an ambitious special project for integrating the people of the archdiocese into one, multi-ethnic Church.
“Mr. Soto has been a tireless agent of the Church in deepening the Catholic witness among Colorado Latinos,” Archbishop Chaput noted, later adding, “Within our local Church, he has skillfully bridged differences between our Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities.”
Soto said the recognition has deepened his commitment to serve the Church.
“Whatever I do or accomplish is not me but is the power at work within me,” he asserted, paraphrasing St. Paul. “To Him be the glory in the Church and in Jesus Christ.”
Bermudez, 49, a transplant to Denver from Peru and a consecrated layman of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (Sodality of Christian Life), is director of ACI-Prensa, an international Spanish-language religious news service. He is also the founder and director of the Catholic News Agency, an English-language religious news service which is headquartered in Denver, and a frequent collaborator with EWTN.
“A gifted multilingual author and speaker, and an experienced religious news journalist, Mr. Bermudez has also provided media and policy counsel” to a wide variety of Church leaders in North and South America, Archbishop Chaput wrote. He added that Bermudez was instrumental in bringing the Marian Community of Reconciliation, the Christian Life Movement and the Sodalitium to Denver—and, therefore, to the United States.
“I was never expecting to receive anything but the ‘hundred-fold’ promised by Jesus himself,” Bermudez said. “There is a long list of people who deserve this much more than me … my community, my brothers and sisters who work with me, and so many anonymous laborers of the vineyard.”
Cohen, 49, of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Denver is principal of St. Mary School in Littleton. She has served on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, the Jubilee 2000 celebration planning committee and in other key volunteer apostolates. Cohen also provides counsel to the superintendent of Catholic schools and senior archdiocesan staff.
“She has a long history as a veteran, highly-regarded teacher in our Catholic schools,” the archbishop wrote. “She is now the distinguished principal of one of our largest Catholic schools— excellent not only academically but also in its Catholic identity.”
“I had always wanted to teach in Catholic schools and from there it’s just natural to serve,” Cohen said. “I also had great example in family in the parishioners at St. Vincent’s—they are wonderful, devout people who give their lives to God, and it’s easy to follow their example.”
Martha “Marty” and Deacon Hugh Downey
The Downeys, in their 60s, of Spirit of Christ Parish in Arvada, run Lalmba, a ministry Deacon Downey founded in Eritrea 40 years ago that provides medical services, Catholic witness and support for African orphans. Their work continued despite the loss of their first child in Africa 35 years ago.
“Lalmba has involved a lifetime of generosity and heroism on the part of the Downeys—raising money and supplies, distributing them to the needy, often in war-torn environments, and providing a personal witness of the Gospel,” the archbishop wrote.
The deacon and his wife said their work has both taken them to the cross and has been inexpressibly rewarding.
“These are difficult times for providing medical and humanitarian services in Africa,” Deacon Downey said. “It would be my wish that this award could generate some financial help for the good people we serve there.”
Innerst, 54, of St. Louis Parish in Englewood, is a convert to Catholicism from Quakerism. He is a teacher at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and the Catechetical School, which he reorganized and improved. He is a co-founder of Denver’s Augustine Institute, where he also serves on the faculty. Innerst is an experienced writer, lecturer and teacher.
“He is a popular, humble and highly effective instructor and model Catholic layman,” Archbishop Chaput wrote.
Innerst said the Sunday Gospel reading the day after he learned of his award struck him “with particular force.”
“When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do,’” he recalled. “This really is humbling because of all the wonderful, even saintly, deserving people I see working around me every day.”
Gerald “Bud” Laber
Laber, 67, of Risen Christ Parish in Denver where he is chair of the finance council, is president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation. Previously, he led the Archdiocesan Finance Council for many years. A retired audit partner with Arthur Anderson, he served on the Regis Jesuit High School board for 20 years and also served on the board of Catholic Charities. He is a member of Legatus, the Knights of Columbus, and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
In nominating Laber, Archbishop Chaput said he carries out his work at the Catholic Foundation “with humility, prudence, integrity and apostolic zeal—qualities that distinguish his entire career.”
Laber said scores of people are more deserving of the award, including his wife, Alice, and the teachers, volunteers and priests he meets through the Catholic Foundation.
“They are heroes as they live their faith each day in service to others,” he said. “I am very grateful for the award and will work hard to live up to the standard it embodies.”
Leisring, 65, of St. Ignatius Loyola Parish of Denver is director ofBlack Catholic Ministry. She has a long record of volunteer service in her parish and on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council.
“She has revivified an important program with her energy, creativity and good will,” the archbishop wrote. “Ms. Leisring is an articulate, faithful voice for the local black Catholic community with outstanding personal skills at building friendships with the Latino community and other Catholic ministries and organizations. … (She) represents the archdiocesan Church in national discussions of race and social justice with fidelity and grace.”
“I see this award as belonging to the whole community in recognition for the importance of black Catholics in the Catholic Church,” Leisring said.
Lenzini, 58, of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is a veteran Catholic educator at Bishop Machebeuf High School. He initially taught English until he was told 17 years ago that he was to begin teaching theology.
“That August was World Youth Day in Denver, and after those five days I knew what I had to do but had no real idea of how to do it. Those days provided a profound re-conversion to Jesus Christ and his Church,” Lenzini said. “So, it wasn’t my decision; it was His! I continue to be amazed each day by His amazing love.”
“Mr. Lenzini is a model Catholic educator of young adults at a crucial point in their formation—and has been throughout his career,” the archbishop wrote.
Luna, 54, of Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora, which has a large and active Latino population, is director of Hispanic Ministry there.
“A model catechist and an excellent teacher and parish leader, Ms. Luna sets a high standard of effective catechesis at the parish level, not just for the Hispanic community, but for the rest of our local Church,” the archbishop wrote.
“I don’t see this as a job at all,” Luna said, “but as a wonderful, life-giving ministry.”
McCabe, 62, of Holy Ghost Parish in Denver is a longtime instructor at Regis University where she developed the Gerard Manly Hopkins program to draw students to the Catholic roots of literature, art and culture. She also directs the Freshman Commitment program, in which she mentors promising but academically challenged students, and she coordinates the school’s social outreach to the poor and homeless.
“She is a woman who not only teaches the faith with words, but lives it with her actions,” Archbishop Chaput wrote.
“I was raised a Roman Catholic but it was Father Woody (C.B. Woodrich) who truly schooled me in serving the Church; he simply insisted that we all move from the pews to the streets of need, to truly live the Gospel that we follow,” McCabe said. “For me, this papal award recognizes that work, and the legions of hands and hearts that make it happen.”
McDonald, 69, of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Aurora is a recently retired executive assistant who served Archbishop Chaput and his predecessor, then-Archbishop now Cardinal J. Francis Stafford for a total of 23 years.
“Her work was unique and demanding,” the archbishop wrote. “She greatly advanced the effectiveness of Denver’s archbishop, and through him, the work of the local Church.”
“I was extremely surprised to learn that Archbishop Chaput had nominated me for this award,” McDonald said, “as I considered my conduct to be simply following the precepts that the Catholic Church had expected of me all my life.”
Rose Mary “Rosie” Nelson
Nelson, 67, of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Littleton served as director of Risk Management for 16 years before retiring last year.
“Ms. Nelson was esteemed by her colleagues and Denver’s clergy alike as a model of Catholic professionalism and ecclesial staff service,” Archbishop Chaput wrote, adding that she also gave witness to an active faith life.
“Sometimes I wish I was still there because I loved everyone so much,” Nelson said. “I just thank God for the gift he gave me in the opportunity to work there.”
Therese A. Polakovic
Polakovic, 55, of St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial is the co-foundress and executive director of ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women), which promotes the new feminism of Pope John Paul II. Based in Denver, it has spread to other dioceses. Polakovic previously served as the first executive director of Seeds of Hope Charitable Trust, which helps poor families send their children to Catholic schools. She is a former director of the Weckbaugh Foundation in Colorado, which aided many Catholic ministries.
“A devoted wife, mother and leader, Ms. Polakovic has served Catholic causes for many years,” the archbishop wrote.
“(The award) represents the work of so many different people who have dedicated themselves to the ENDOW program,” Polakovic said. “Countless people have spent thousands and thousands of hours on this project, so this award is really for them.”
Sevier, 84, of Mount Carmel Parish in Littleton is a former businessman and entrepreneur who since retiring 11 years ago has done volunteer maintenance work at the John Paul II Center, home of the administrative offices for archdiocese.
“Most of his service is the kind of unappealing work no one else would gladly choose, but which urgently needs to be done,” Archbishop Chaput noted. “Mr. Sevier does it with a consistently humble and generous heart, with no expectation of reward.”
“When I sold my business and retired, that wasn’t a very good life; I got bored quick,” Sevier explained. “I wanted to come over and do something.”
Sevier said he was greatly surprised to get the honor.
“I got a nice letter from the archbishop,” he said, telling how he learned of the award. “I wrote him a thank you, and then I got another beautiful letter back—I couldn’t believe it!”
Sister Mary Catherine Widger, S.L.
Sister Widger of the Denver-based Sisters of Loretto is the co-foundress and associate director of Denver’s Bridge Community, a group home for adult women with developmental disabilities. For more than 30 years she has also served as associate director of the archdiocese’s special religious education program.
“Sister Widger’s service has been direct, personal and extremely demanding for more than three decades because the emotional and physical needs of persons with disabilities are so high,” noted the archbishop. “She is a model of consecrated service to the poorest and most forgotten of the poor.”
“Both the Sisters of Loretto and the Archdiocese of Denver have enabled me to engage in a ministry that fills my life and continues to stretch my horizons,” Sister Widger said. “I feel very much involved in a mutual ministry with the families with whom I work. For me it is a great honor to serve the Church and to seek God’s will for our Church in these changing times.”
Socorro and Deacon Modesto Garcia
The Garcias of St. Augustine Parish in Brighton are both in their 50s and are immigrants from Mexico. Socorro is a veteran catechist in Hispanic Ministry. Deacon Garcia directs the archdiocese’s Migrant Ministry and provides outreach to inmates in Colorado jails in addition to his service to his parish.
“Together they offer a very powerful witness of married diaconal leadership within our large Latino community,” Archbishop Chaput wrote.
Modesto said he saw a need for Spanish-language ministry when he arrived to Denver in 1982. He credits his wife with encouraging his call to the diaconate.
“I am very grateful for the award and happy serving in the ministry I’m in,” he said.
“We are very surprised and happy,” added Socorro. “And our family is happy, too.”
Katharina and Deacon John Smith
The Smiths, 74 and 69 respectively, belong to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Bunkerville, Nev.
Katharina is a native of Hungary but left as a refugee in her youth to escape the nation’s Communist regime. Ordained 32 years ago, Deacon Smith has served in a wide variety of diaconal ministries from hospital chaplaincy to Archdiocese of Denver diaconate formation with his wife’s faithful support while raising their family.
“In 2003, Deacon Smith (moved) to Nevada,” the archbishop noted. “But he has generously continued to play a major role in the formation of our diaconal candidates, reorganizing, improving and overseeing our entire program.”
“To give your life to Christ and his Church and to serve him without reservation is the source of peace and joy and I would not change that for anything, nor would my wife,” Deacon Smith said.