Catholic Extension's Lumen Christi Award honors an individual or group working in one of America's mission dioceses who demonstrates how the power of faith can transform lives and communities. Lumen Christi recipients are the hidden heroes in our midst. They bring light and hope to the forgotten corners of our country and inspire those around them to be the "Light of Christ" as well. Read on to learn more about this year's finalists. 


Randy Tejada

Diocese of Caguas, Puerto Rico

At age 21, Randy Tejada has accomplished more in the last five years, than some do in a lifetime. When he was only 16, two years before he could legally drive a car, he became the pastoral coordinator of the Savarona chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Caguas, which is an immigrant community facing many challenges. With a team, he has led the chapel’s restoration in the last five years, with scarce resources. He became secretary of the parish council three years ago. Of the parish’s five chapels, Randy has served in each. At the diocesan level, he helps coordinate youth ministry. With the recent devastation of Hurricane María, Tejada is helping recovery efforts at the Savarona chapel and Sweet Name of Jesus Cathedral. Residents call Tejada the “soul of the community.” He wants to engage laypeople to serve migrants, children and other marginalized sectors of society. “The Church must not be alien to the social suffering of the poor; it must be its mission,” he said. Learn more>>


Dreamers Serving the Church

Diocese of El Paso, Texas

Dreamers across the United States are taking prominent leadership roles in the Church and in their communities. Their contributions have a lasting impact and continue to shape our faith. They continue to lead and serve despite an uncertain future. The diocese nominates three dreamers—Efren, Mariana and Sebastian—young immigrants who exemplify service, action and the perseverance of all Dreamers. Efren is a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church, one of the oldest parishes in the diocese, just yards from the border, where he coordinates religious education for youth. Mariana, sixteen years, is a youth minister and catechist at a local parish. Sebastian works with Hope Border Institute’s Leadership Academy to inspire young immigrants through faith. Even in our polarized political climate, Dreamers have changed public opinion about immigration and shown talent in organizing communities. A new generation of leadership is showing that young people can be protagonists of a different future and part of an inclusive, participatory Church. These three Dreamers represent a young, active and engaged Church who are changing the face of El Paso faith communities. Learn more >>


Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Jackson

Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi

The diocese expands more than 37,000 square miles and has about 54,000 Hispanics. Through parishes, about 5,000 are connected to the faith. The bishop wants to reach more. The diocese has been quickly building up its capacity to serve Hispanics, and has nominated its Hispanic Ministry as this year’s Lumen Christi nominee. Christian Brother Theodore Dausch has been involved with Hispanics for 20 years and coordinates the office of Hispanic Ministry. He is assisted by two Guadalupan Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit, Srs. Josefa Garcia Alvarez and Maria Elena Mendez. Masses in Spanish have tripled in the last 25 years, now with 27 parishes offering them. “Many in the Hispanic community arrive with limited education, formation in the Catholic faith and low self-esteem,” said the Hispanic ministers. “By providing programs on scripture and offering pastoral ministry, we help them develop self-confidence and a willingness to share their faith and to assume leadership in their parishes as prayer group leaders and on parish councils.” Hispanic leaders are emerging, thanks to these outstanding efforts. Learn more >>


Sister Marie-Paule Willem, FMM

Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico

Sister Marie-Paule Willem, originally from Belgium, has been a Franciscan Missionary of Mary for more than 60 years in South America and in the Southwest United States. Her contributions are vast, but always focused on social justice issues for the poor. She has worked extensively with immigrants, bringing them comfort, tutoring them and helping prepare them for citizenship in this country. In the diocese, which shares a border with Mexico, more than 65 percent of its residents are Hispanics. She is parish administrator at San Jose Mission Church on the Rio Grande, serving 200 families and also works with Hispanics at Holy Cross Parish in Las Cruces, whose Spanish Mass is now standing-room only. “By knocking on every door and using her talent for music, she succeeded in reaching children and adults,” said Bishop Oscar Cantú. “Sister truly illuminates the path to God.” A few years ago, she launched a ministry program for women incarcerated at a local detention center that now serves 60 women weekly. She offers to them a sense of dignity and hope. Learn more >>


Monsignor Jack Harris

Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas

Since his ordination in 1974, Monsignor Jack Harris has been a teacher, coach and pastor; he is currently pastor at Sacred Heart Church and School in Morrilton. But perhaps his biggest contribution to the Church and society is through his prison ministry. This seed was planted early: his father, a Little Rock police officer, was killed in the line of duty before he was born, giving him an appreciation for the victim’s viewpoint which has helped him to forge bridges between the incarcerated, their victims and their families. His first assignment as a priest was working with troubled youth at juvenile detention centers. As a pastor in Jonesboro, the site of a 1998 shooting at a middle school, he was called to minister to the students there, which lasted five years and led him to further involvement in crisis response and intervention. He has spent the last 14 years as chaplain to death row inmates at the Varner Unit, a supermax prison facility near the town of Grady. Twice a week, Msgr. Harris drives 250 miles to visit nearly 500 men who are locked down for 23 hours a day in a one-man cell. He talks and prays with them and offers Mass and Confession. “My belief is that if a man, in whatever way he understands it, confessed his offense to the Lord and asked forgiveness, he’s been forgiven,” he said. Learn more >>


Christine Wanjura

Diocese of Lubbock, Texas

Lumen Christi Award finalist Christine WanjuraAs the only Catholic school in the 25 counties of the diocese, Christ the King Cathedral School plays an important role in educating future leaders of the Church. Principal Christine Wanjura, a former teacher, is determined to make the school accessible and inclusive. Her goal is to never turn away a child who wants a Catholic education. Having grown up in a small Hispanic Catholic community in Texas, she is familiar with the challenges of a small rural parish and the benefits of diversity. She wants the school to reflect the demographics of the diocese, which is primarily Hispanic. Students come from as far as 70 miles away and even with a modest tuition, most receive financial aid. During her tenure, enrollment has grown by 20 percent. Her mission to ensure students have a positive experience at school is helping the growth of faith throughout the community. In her other role as Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the diocese, she works with parishes to create after-school programs. She said, “As a minister in a rural diocese with limited connections to other Catholic schools, I feel the challenge to explore the best means of discipleship and formation to people in all corners of our diocese.” Learn more >>


Sister Phyllis Wilhelm, OSF

Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin

For more than 40 years, Franciscan Sister Phyllis Wilhelm has served Ojibwe Native Americans in the Diocese of Superior in the farthest north of Wisconsin. For 21 of those years, she was the principal of the small Holy Family Catholic School in Bayfield, with about two thirds of the students coming from the Red Cliff Band of Ojibwe. Since 2008 she has been serving as the pastoral associate of St. Mary Parish, a historic church in Odanah that is part of the Bad River Band of Ojibwe. Catholic Extension has helped to sustain the parish by subsidizing her salary there. Sister Wilhelm has worked to build community, has incorporated Ojibwe traditions into the liturgy, has fostered a group of Native women who are reclaiming the traditional beading craft, and has increased participation and lay involvement in all aspects of parish life. “The Native American traditions are so much like those of St. Francis,” Sister Wilhelm said. “Their love of nature, God’s presence and each other have enhanced my own faith. I pray that my presence among them has given the gift of Christ in my words and actions.” Learn more >>


Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George

Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma

For 32 years, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George have served the school and church of St. Catherine on the west side of Tulsa. Currently three of them quietly and effectively minister as elementary and middle school teachers at St. Catherine School, while also assisting the parish and working in the community. Among other ministries, they run a Catholic girls club, serve meals to the residents of their low-income neighborhood and promote religious vocations throughout the diocese. Many of the school’s children come from poor families—some of them refugees—and they face many academic, social, spiritual and emotional challenges. The sisters share the joy of the Gospel and follow their congregation’s charism to “make Christ’s merciful love visible.” In many different ways, they encourage their students to serve others in their communities and beyond. “There’s something about teaching,” said Sister M. Cordis Guyer, FSGM, “that allows us to express our gift of spiritual motherhood. I want to help each child to know that they are loved no matter what.” Learn more >>

 

Click here to meet all 47 of this year's inspirational nominees who are spreading the light of Christ in some of America's poorest places.