Archbishop confers papal honors on 24 faithful
Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., conferred papal honors on three couples and 18 individuals during an evening Mass Nov. 7 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
The church was filled to capacity with family, friends and parishioners for the joyous Mass that included beautiful contemporary Christian music provided by the Archdiocesan Choir. The Mass was celebrated by the archbishop and concelebrated by priests of the parishes the honorees attend.
Four people received the Benemerenti (“To a Well-Deserving Person”) Medal, which is awarded for exceptional service to the Church. The other individuals and three couples were awarded the Cross Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice (“For the Church and Pontiff”) established by Pope Leo XIII in 1888 to commemorate his golden sacerdotal jubilee. It is given for distinguished service to the Church.
Nominations for the awards were made by the archbishop through the apostolic nuncio, the permanent diplomatic representative of the Holy See to the United States. The qualifications for each candidate were then reviewed and forwarded to the Vatican’s secretariat of state, who recommended the candidates to the pope who granted the awards.
“Those of you who come to this Mass regularly are probably wondering why you had trouble finding a seat?” Archbishop Chaput said, drawing a laugh from the congregation. “It’s because we are here to honor people for whom we are grateful that they are among us.
“November is a time when we remember the dead, beginning with All Saints and All Souls days,” he said. “It’s a time when the days grow short and the leaves die and fall to the ground and we think about that impact on our lives.”
People need to take their death seriously, the archbishop said, so they can live their lives in a deeper, more committed way—much like those who were being honored at the Mass.
“We are honoring them for their lives of fidelity and generous love,” he said. “They live how we should live our lives if we want to make a difference in the world.”
Following the archbishop’s homily, Msgr. Thomas Fryar, pastor of Cathedral Basilica, began the formal awards presentation.
“The Christian life is not about seeking or getting awards,” the monsignor said, “but from time to time the Holy Father recognizes persons for their exceptional service to the Gospel. Papal honors are rare. Tonight the Holy Father recognizes four individuals with the Benemerenti Medal and 20 with the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. These two awards are among the highest honors the pope can bestow on any person.”
In turn, the honorees were called forward to receive their awards from Archbishop Chaput as Msgr. Fryar made note of their service to the Catholic community.
Those honored with the Benemerenti Medal:
- Charles Goldberg, senior partner with Rothgerber, Johnson and Lyons LLP, for more than 20 years of legal and legislative counsel to the Church in northern Colorado. Goldberg is the first non-Catholic in more than 25 years to be honored with this award from the Holy Father.
- Timothy Gray, co-founder and president of the Augustine Institute, for leadership in seminary, biblical and Catholic lay education.
- Luis Soto, director of the archdiocese’s Hispanic Ministry Office and executive director of the Hispanic institute Centro San Juan Diego, for service in Hispanic ministry as a leader teaching the faith, building community and promoting a spirit of unity within the Church across ethnic and cultural differences.
- Maria del Mar Muñoz-Visoso, founder of the archdiocese’s Spanish-language newspaper El Pueblo Católico. Muñoz-Visoso also helped found Centro San Juan Diego before joining the U.S. Catholic bishops in Washington, D.C. She was unable to attend the Mass and received her medal separately.
Those honored with the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice:
- Alejandro Bermudez, a consecrated layman of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (Sodality of Christian Life), founder of the Catholic News Agency and director of ACI-Prensa, for exceptional leadership in Catholic journalism, public policy counsel and social communications.
- Mary Cohen, principal of St. Mary School in Littleton, for service in Catholic education and volunteer leadership.
- Martha Downey and Deacon Hugh Downey of Spirit of Christ Parish in Arvada, for medical missionary work in Africa through their nonprofit organization Lalmba.
- Socorro Garcia and Deacon Modesto Garcia, for their witness as a diaconal couple and their work in the apostolates of religious education, Hispanic ministry, migrant ministry and outreach to prisoners in Colorado’s penal system.
- Sean Innerst, instructor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and the Catechetical School and co-founder and faculty member of the Augustine Institute, for service in seminary, catechetical and lay Catholic graduate education.
- Gerald Laber, president and CEO of The Catholic Foundation, for his personal generosity to the Church and Catholic causes and financial leadership in the Catholic community.
- Mary Leisring, director of Black Catholic Ministry, for leadership in Catholic African-American apostolic work and building friendships with other key Catholic ministries.
- Marc Lenzini, theology teacher at Bishop Machebeuf High School, for service in Catholic secondary education and knowledge of Catholic culture and belief.
- Yolanda Luna, director of Hispanic ministry at Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora, for work in Hispanic catechetical ministry.
- Victoria McCabe, longtime instructor at Regis University, for a career of Catholic witness in higher education.
- Patricia McDonald, retired executive assistant, for 23 years of professional support to the archbishops of Denver: Cardinal J. Francis Stafford and his successor, Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
- Rosemary Nelson, retired director of the archdiocese’s Risk Management Office, for 16 years of diocesan staff service and spirit of Christian discipleship.
- Therese Polakovic, co-foundress and executive director of ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women), for leadership in Catholic women’s ministry and Catholic education for inner-city and financially challenged families.
- Theodore Sevier, maintenance volunteer at the John Paul II Center, for service to the many practical needs of the Church.
- Katharina Smith and Deacon John Smith: Katharina for encouragement and support to her husband’s diaconal service and Deacon Smith, director of deacon formation at St. Francis School of Theology for Deacons, for service in a wide variety of diaconal ministries.
- Loretto Sister Mary Catherine Widger, co-foundress and associate director of the Bridge Community and associate director for Special Religious Education, for service to the mentally and physically disabled.
Msgr. Fryar told the congregation that the 24th honoree, who asked for anonymity for family reasons, would receive their award in a private ceremony.
“The archdiocese is blessed with many hundreds of people who witness the Gospel in heroic ways every day,” he said. “In honoring these deserving persons with the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice and the Benemerenti Medal tonight, the Holy Father rightly acknowledges the example of their lives. But he also honors all of our good people, and he invites each of us to follow Jesus Christ with the same unselfish love.”
The congregation acknowledged the honorees by a thunderous applause. A reception followed the Mass.