35th Annual Lumen Christi Award Recipient to Receive $50,000 Grant for Ministry and Diocese

CHICAGO – Aug. 22, 2012 – Catholic Extension today announced the Felician Sisters in Kingstree, S.C. as the recipients of its 35th Annual Lumen Christi ("Light of Christ") Award. This national award was established as Catholic Extension’s highest honor and is presented annually to a priest, religious or lay person who has demonstrated how the power of faith can transform lives and communities. Lumen Christi Award recipients have devoted their lives to serving the poor in the most under-resourced dioceses in the United States and to fostering Catholic communities that build faith, inspire hope and ignite change. The Felician Sisters will receive the Lumen Christi Award at a ceremony in Kingstree and at a Mass and reception in Charleston, S.C. on Sept. 12 and 13, 2012.

The Felician Sisters—Sister Mary Susanne Dziedzic, CSSF, Sister Mary Johnna Ciezobka, CSSF and Sister Mary Jacqueline Benbenek, CSSF—were nominated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of the Diocese of Charleston for this honor. In the spirit of Catholic Extension’s mission to build faith, inspire hope and ignite change through supporting poor mission dioceses throughout the U.S., they will receive a $50,000 grant to be shared equally between their ministry and the Diocese of Charleston. With this funding, the Sisters plan to expand the services they offer and also bring a fourth Sister into their ministry.

Bishop Guglielmone described the Sisters' ministry in his nomination letter. "These religious women have worked tirelessly to bring the love and mercy of Christ to some of the most disadvantaged and economically challenged people in our part of the country," he said.

"We made a pact when we first moved here that we would be present to the people, that it would be our main ministry. We will be present to the neighbors, we will be present to the church," said Sister Johnna.

The Sisters have transformed a community of violence and poverty and have brought hope to Thorne Avenue, a road that runs through much of the town. The Thorne Avenue neighborhood, which historically has been known as a dangerous and disadvantaged part of Kingstree, is where the Sisters planted roots and built their ministry. From virtually nothing, the Sisters have launched an after-school tutoring program, a food pantry, clothing closet, meal program, cooking classes and religious education to serve people in need. The Sisters work and live on Thorne Avenue, among the people they serve, which has helped them greatly in learning the needs of the community. In 20 years, their ministry has grown and expanded into several buildings that line Thorne Avenue and serve several hundreds of people each month.

Even though Catholics are a minority in Kingstree, the Sisters know no boundaries. They give witness to the Catholic faith in all aspects of their ministry while building relationships with local residents of all churches who wanted to get involved and help unify the community. By connecting people from both sides of the "track"—the railroad track that runs through Kingstree and acts as a boundary between the prosperous and the poor—and building a community of ecumenism, 11 different Christian denominations now participate in the ministry and over 60 volunteers work with the Sisters to serve people, no matter what side of the track they are from.

The Sisters are also an integral part of the St. Ann's parish community in Kingstree. Each one has a role with the church, including religious education, liturgy, music and preparing the altar environment.

"The Felician Sisters of Kingstree are truly the Light of Christ to others in their community," said Catholic Extension President Father Jack Wall. "It is their unwavering faith that provides a light to their path, guiding them in their work and inspiring them to continually share that faith. We are honored to present the Lumen Christi Award to Sisters Susanne, Johnna and Jacqueline—they are examples to all of us of how ministry to others can transform hearts, lives and society."

The Felician Sisters of Kingstree are radiating the Light of Christ in the very same county as the first Lumen Christi Award recipient. Thirty-five years ago, a lay woman named Florence Kaster led the way with her unrelenting service to the poor in the rural areas of Williamsburg County in the Diocese of Charleston, bringing them the Light of Christ in an era when racial tension was high even though her ministry was not looked upon favorably by her Christian peers. The community has come a long way since Kaster received the Lumen Christi Award 35 years ago. There is now greater hope, understanding and unity among the residents. But there is still need, so the Felician Sisters are continuing their mission to serve.

"In the early days, we had so little and what little we had, we shared and we gave. Now, God has blessed us with this wonderful Lumen Christi Award," said Sister Johnna. "The money is greatly needed, but the Light of Christ really touches us. God always comes through with blessings for us and that’s the way we've learned to live. We're depending on God—and that's what people around here do."

Through it all, the Sisters themselves feel blessed by their ministry. But it's the people of Kingstree that feel blessed by them. "The Sisters have really inspired our community; all our churches are getting together and committing to helping the Sisters," said Ricky Burrows, Mayor of Kingstree. "The Sisters have been an asset to Williamsburg County and Kingstree. Without their work, I don't know what this section of town would have been like if they had not been here."

To view and share a video and photos featuring the Felician Sisters in Kingstree, S.C., visit http://www.catholicextension.org/news-media/media-room/digital-media-releases/South-Carolina-Felician-Sisters-Receive-Highest-National-Award.

About Catholic Extension
Catholic Extension uniquely contributes to the growth and vibrancy of the church in the U.S. by strategically investing in poor mission dioceses to unleash the power of faith that transforms hearts, lives and society. Based in Chicago, this national organization provides funding resources to dioceses and parishes through programs and services investing in people, infrastructure and ministries. This support is given based on need, as well as passion and commitment to the growth of the Catholic faith. Since 1905, Catholic Extension has distributed more than $500 million to communities across America. For more information, visit www.catholicextension.org.