For 40 years, Catholic Extension has asked mission dioceses to nominate their best, brightest and most inspiring people for our annual Lumen Christi (Light of Christ) Award. Click here to view the 8 finalists for the award and scroll down to meet all the nominees.
This year’s group of 45 nominees—pastors, sisters, lay leaders, deacons and community groups—show the enormous breadth of the Catholic Church across the country. These Catholics are offering their hearts and hands to build faith, inspire hope and ignite change. In America’s poorest places, they bring the light of Christ to those who struggle.
Archdiocese of Agaña, Guam
The Archdiocese of Agaña comprises all of Guam, an area of 215 square miles with more than 130,000 Catholics, representing 85 percent of the island’s population. It has 26 parishes.
For 26 years, Eloise Sanchez has been teaching catechism at San Juan Parish in Ordot, Guam. As a longtime educator and curriculum specialist at the department of education, she has extended her love of teaching by serving in the Catholic Church in one of the smallest parishes on the island. She teaches CCD, pre-Confirmation and Confirmation classes.
She believes that “when young people learn about their faith in a positive environment, they will want to engage themselves fully in the life of the Church.” She helps them understand the three gifts they bring to the faith: time, talent and treasure.
In addition to her work in the classroom, Sanchez coordinates programs for students to live out the corporal works of mercy by visiting the sick, feeding the hungry and caring for those in need.
Father John O’Grady
Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA
Father John (Frank) O’Grady is an army chaplain in the United States military archdiocese that serves more than 1.8 million men, women and children worldwide who are connected to the armed services. He is stationed at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland offering pastoral ministry to active duty military and their families.
At Walter Reed, he has brought the gift of healing to those struggling to regain a sense of purpose after suffering injuries. As part of his ministry to accompany the spiritually, physically and mentally wounded, he offers workshops for couples and families in topics such as dealing with stress, conflict resolution and forgiveness.
In each of his assignments, Father O’Grady has led military communities through the healing sacraments and prayer. He has encouraged military leaders to serve with character and provided spiritual guidance and dignity to all who struggle to cope with unmet expectations.
He was also recognized with a Commendation Medal for his care and leadership at the Pentagon following the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.
Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska
Having served in parish ministry since 1996, Matthew Beck recently became the diocese’s director of youth and young adult ministry. The program’s goal is to awaken and foster Catholic identity in Alaska’s youth. To accomplish this, he is building relationships with those who accompany young people as they encounter Christ, such as pastors and other ministry leaders. He is an authentic evangelist and an effective organizer, who has planned many workshops for youth. Church leaders have recognized that and empowered him for ministry.
To further engage young people and to encourage their leadership skills, Beck is creating an archdiocesan youth ministry board.
Serving the Church in Anchorage is daunting given its vast geographic area, which covers 138,000 square miles with 43,000 Catholics and 33 priests. Beck has the passion, perseverance and creativity to do it. He has already traveled to several far-flung sites and in August will visit Unalaska on the Aleutian Chain, the most remote location in the archdiocese.
Sister Carmen Brenes-Álvarez
Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico
The St. Mary Euphrasia Home was created in 1987 by the Sisters of Good Shepherd of Angers to offer shelter and basic services to pregnant, homeless and high-risk teens. Since its founding, more than 1,000 girls and their babies have received care and nurturing at the home.
For more than 55 years, Sister Carmen Brenes-Álvarez has served these young women. As the home’s director, she and her team provide an environment that elevates the dignity of human beings and promotes a sense of respect, courage and forgiveness for the young mothers.
The sisters help the young women celebrate the gift of life and show them how families can be foundations of love with healthy relationships, so that they can create their own strong families as they leave the home.
Sister Brenes-Álvarez follows the words of St. Mary Euphrasia, “One person is of more value than the whole world,” and knows that God has called her to serve the most vulnerable.
Missionary Carmelites of St. Teresa
Diocese of Beaumont, Texas
Four sisters belonging to the Mexican order of the Missionary Carmelites of St. Teresa arrived in this diocese in 2005 to evangelize the rapidly increasing Hispanic population, most of them recent immigrants and first-generation Americans.
The sisters work in three parishes — Our Lady of the Light in Anahuac, St. Louis in Winnie and Immaculate Conception in Liberty. Combined weekly Mass attendance in these parishes has increased by more than 80 percent since their arrival and Confirmations have nearly doubled.
As pastoral ministers, the sisters foster lay ministers, hold retreats for families, prepare parishioners for sacraments and provide religious education. In addition, they put thousands of miles on their car annually to visit the sick, the grieving, troubled youth, those with financial needs and those who have left the Church.
Of their work, the sisters say, “In the search for God, we find His response through the people with whom we develop our apostolic work. Every day we respond to what the Lord is asking us in favor of His people.”
Father Christian Reuter, O.F.M
Diocese of Belleville, Illinois
After serving for 35 years in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Franciscan Father Christian Reuter moved to East St. Louis, Illinois in 2001 to build St. Benedict the Black Friary in the middle of a city which he describes as ideal for Franciscan ministry — poor, crime-ridden, and overlooked by both Church and society.
He now coordinates the diocese’s prison ministry program, which serves federal, state and local correctional facilities spread across 28 counties. For more than 14 years, he has reached out to those who are incarcerated and their families, bringing a Catholic presence and dispensing God’s mercy to those who are lonely and in pain.
As a nationally-recognized expert in prison ministry, he has worked in all aspects: pastoral care for the incarcerated, teaching life and career skills for their re-entry into society, and training volunteers. About 50 volunteers regularly visit the inmates.
One prisoner expressed his gratitude to Father Reuter by painting a portrait of St. Francis, using moistened M&Ms for paint and twisted toilet paper for brush, his only tools in prison.
Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota
Growing up in a rural farming community where money was always tight, Joyce Sand learned to garden, can and store food for the long North Dakota winters. She became expert in the methods and organization needed to source food on a budget. These skills are invaluable as she coordinates the food pantry at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Minot.
The food pantry serves about 550 families each month. Sand orders, purchases and stocks food during weekday mornings, and volunteers distribute it to families in the afternoons. In addition, she and her husband Roger drive around town to pick up donated food.
The pantry’s 110 volunteers are from her parish, other Catholic parishes and surrounding faith communities in the Minot area, who come together to feed the hungry.
“Our work is not work,” she said. “Our time spent helping our brothers and sisters in need is a special way that we are sharing the gifts that God has blessed us with.”
Mal and Sandy Machado
Diocese of Boise, Idaho
In the Magic Valley of south-central Idaho, Mal and Sandy Machado have been instrumental in building youth and marriage ministries. In 2004 they created a Life Teen program at their parish in Buhl, Immaculate Conception, to motivate youth to become active in the Church. Starting with just a few teens, the program now serves 50 to 60. The same year Life Teen started, the couple began chaperoning students to the Steubenville youth conferences held each summer nationwide.
Seven years ago, the Machados established Covenant of Love, a marriage enrichment program for couples to explore their relationship through the lens of the Catholic faith, bringing greater stability to marriage and family. The group meets monthly.
With eight children and a dairy farm, the Machados understand the demands of a busy household and have dedicated themselves to helping adults and young people strengthen their relationships and bring Christ to the center of their lives.
Father Jerry Rogers
Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota
After serving in small mission churches in rural Minnesota and as a missionary in Zambia, Africa, Father Jerry Rogers became pastor of St. Mary’s Mission Church, which serves the Ojibwa people in the center of Red Lake Nation. The mission church has been on the reservation since 1858.
Father Rogers seeks to highlight the shared values and common ground between the Catholic faith and the Indians of Red Lake. The Ojibwa are encouraged to maintain their Native identity and customs but to also join in the teachings and traditions of Catholicism.
Since his arrival in 2009, he has made the presence of the Church more visible. The number of children enrolled in the reservation’s Catholic school has more than doubled from 47 to 104. Financial support for the school has increased, including from the local Tribal Council. Mass attendance has increased from 30 to 50 parishioners a week.
The mission church has become a home for the sick and grieving, a safe refuge and a place of hope for the Ojibwa.
Miguel and Margarita Garcia
Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines is fortunate to have a devoted couple who makes the rounds among the diocese’s parishes simply to help Catholics grow in their faith. The roving ministry of Miguel and Margarita Garcia, which offers faith formation and sacramental preparation, has boosted the faith journey of hundreds of parishioners.
Originally from Mexico, Miguel and Margarita live in a rural area, working in apple orchards and vineyards, making cheese and raising cattle. As a convert to Catholicism 15 years ago, Miguel made a promise to God that he would bring others closer to Him.
Prayer is a central piece of their ministry. They teach people devotional prayers, read Scriptures and pray the rosary together. In addition to visiting parishes, they host a weekly prayer group at their home with 15 regulars. People also stop by daily to pray with the Garcias. They have established themselves as a font of prayer in the diocese.
Father Nadim Abou Zeid
Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon
St. Sharbel Church opened as a mission parish in Las Vegas, Nevada, in the 1990s, but struggled financially and had few parishioners. When Maronite Father Nadim Abou Zeid arrived in 2008, the church structure was unfinished and the parish of 50 people was $1 million in debt.
Rolling up his sleeves, Father Nadim joined the construction crew and personally built much of the church building and classrooms with his own hands. His dynamic personality and faith-filled drive drew people to the parish.
Today parish membership and Mass attendance at St. Sharbel has increased twenty-fold. It is one of the largest parishes in the diocese and attracts a diverse group. Parishioners are first-generation immigrants from more than 20 countries, including Lebanon, the Philippines, Mexico, Korea, Syria, Croatia and Italy. Masses are offered in at least five languages.
In fewer than 10 years, Father Nadim completely transformed the parish from a desolate church to a thriving, energetic, growing community.
Father Mark Shuey
Eparchy of St. Josaphat
Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, and under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma, Ohio, St. Nicholas Mission is 12 years old. It does not yet have a church building, but celebrates in a nearby Byzantine church.
The mission parishes of the St. Josaphat diocese are on the frontlines of small immigrant communities — most of whom are newly-arrived from Ukraine — to provide sacraments, religious education, marriage preparation and other social service ministries.
In addition to heading St. Nicholas, Father Shuey has also started small mission parishes in North and South Carolina. Wherever he travels, he gathers Eastern Catholics and those who like the Byzantine rite and establishes a place of worship.
Interestingly, he grew up Lutheran, is a physicist with a doctorate and is not at all Ukrainian. He became a Catholic, fell in love with the Byzantine rite, became a deacon and is now a missionary priest.
Sister Therese Maria Touma
Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn
Sister Therese Maria Touma belongs to the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light, a new religious order of Maronite sisters who serve the faithful in the 16 states of this eparchy, which stretches from Maine to Florida. She is based with two other sisters in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Having participated in the first cohort of Catholic Extension’s Young Adult Leadership Initiative, she completed her master’s degree from Boston College in pastoral ministry in 2015.
Her service to youth and young adult ministry includes catechesis, counseling, religious formation, leading retreats and heading pilgrimages to the annual March for Life. Full of optimism and enthusiasm, the question that Sister Touma asks is not “How can we possibly do this?” but “How can we not succeed?”
“Youth ministry is a constant giving and receiving,” she said. “As I am being emptied, the Lord is refilling me daily with joy and new energy to serve through each encounter and in my personal and communal prayer life with my sisters.”
A recent immigrant from Australia, Sister Touma is greatly helping young Maronites in America find a place and a voice in the Church.
Father Joseph Hemmer, O.F.M.
Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska
Turning 90 this year, Franciscan Father Joseph Hemmer represents the best of Franciscan spirituality, missionary ardor and Yankee ingenuity. As a priest for 63 years, he spent the first decades in pastoral and education ministries in the “Lower 48” and arrived 30 years ago to serve the Athabascan people who live in Alaska’s central Yukon River region, primarily in the towns of Kaltag and Ruby.
Traveling great distances, often in harsh weather, he visits small communities to administer the sacraments, lead catechetical formation and visit the poor and elderly in his flock. In addition, he has wielded hammer, saw and miter to rebuild, reposition or raze church structures in the Athabascan region. He encourages locals to create sacred artwork for these churches that incorporates Native and Catholic iconography and symbolizes the missionary church in this area.
Alaskans appreciate the rare outsider who comes and stays for years. With three decades of serving the Athabascans, Hemmer has earned the prestigious title of “elder.”
Presentation Partners in Housing
Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota
The Presentation Partners in Housing (PPiH) is a ministry sponsored by the Union of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to assist those who are homeless or threatened by homelessness.
The organization provides essential services for people who face challenges such as unemployment, medical issues, mental health issues and family troubles. These services have included offering mortgage assistance to families at risk of losing their home, paying for a background check for a homeless woman to allow her to work, or subsidizing a short-term hotel room for a homeless family living in their truck.
Last year, PPiH served 562 families in the Fargo diocese, providing more than $330,000 in assistance. Partnering with other social service agencies, PPiH’s mission is to find permanent solutions to prevent, reduce and end homelessness by providing coordinated and improved service delivery to those who struggle. It provides direct care to the most vulnerable in a compassionate, dignified way.
The sisters say, “We are guided by the work of Venerable Nano Nagle, the ‘Lady with the lantern,’ who shone her light on the plight of the poor, not only through her words, but also through her deeds.”
Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico
St. Joseph Mission School in San Fidel was founded in 1923, with Catholic Extension support, to serve the Pueblo peoples of Acoma and Laguna, and the surrounding Spanish villages of Cubero, Seboyeta and San Fidel.
In recent decades, student enrollment had greatly declined and the school almost closed until Antonio Trujillo became principal in 2011 and completely revitalized it. Bringing together community members, parents and educators, he convinced them of the importance of Catholic education and gained their commitment to re-energize the school.
When he arrived, only 12 students attended the school and now there are 60, ranging from pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade. Students are 90 percent Native American and 10 percent Hispanic. By hiring dedicated teachers and fostering Catholic identity among the students, Trujillo has created a beacon of hope and faith for the young people of San Fidel.
When working with Antonio Trujillo, you will frequently hear him quote St. Francis of Assisi, "Do what is necessary, then do what is possible and then you will find yourself doing the impossible."
Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan
As director of the diocese’s Hispanic Apostolate, Silvia Cortes-Lopez helps transitional migrant workers and permanent alien residents to grow in their faith. Originally from Mexico, she began working in the diocese in 1999.
Today around 14,000 skilled laborers and their families come annually to support the agricultural industry in the region. Many live in migrant camps, including 117 camps in the Diocese of Gaylord.
The majority of these migrants and other local immigrants are Catholic, so Cortes-Lopez’s mission is to keep them connected to the Church. She is responsible for promoting and teaching religious education, planning outreach visits to migrant populations and implementing faith programs for them. These activities include Masses at the camps and faith formation classes for children who accompany their working parents.
Migrants face challenges in maintaining their faith because they are often away from their home parishes, work long hours and face transportation issues in getting to church. Cortes-Lopez eases these difficulties by helping to bring the Church to migrants—where they are located and on their schedule.
Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska
As a lay ecclesial minister in the diocese and a pastoral minister at St. Joseph Church in Kimball, Edward Montgomery is an exemplary witness and disciple of Christ. After careers in the Marines and teaching in schools throughout the state, including a school on the Omaha Reservation, he completed a master’s degree in pastoral studies at Loyola University New Orleans in 2011 and began his ministry to the Church.
Montgomery’s responsibilities include staffing youth retreats, teaching RCIA and confirmation classes, bringing Communion to the homebound and visiting hospitals. He also serves on the Diocesan Pastoral Council.
At St. Joseph, he assists pastor Father Sagar to serve the parish’s 124 families, including about 75 young parishioners who are active in the teen programs. He also teaches English at Banner County High School in rural Harrisburg.
“I am called as a lay ecclesial minister but more importantly my baptismal calling is a call to service,” he said.
Diocese of Helena, Montana
Born and raised in Browning, Mary DesRosier is a Blackfeet Indian, family medicine doctor and longtime parishioner of Little Flower Church. To complete her studies, she was away from Browning for 20 years to attend college, medical school and residency but returned to serve the Blackfeet people in both a medical and spiritual capacity.
Through her work at the Indian Health Services, she is often called to respond to the tragedies of car accidents, addictions, depression, substance abuse and violence. In addition to medical skills, she brings mercy, healing and hope to her patients. Beloved in her community, she was given the Indian name, Medicine Victory Woman. She also volunteers at the parish, leading a weekly Eucharistic prayer gathering and supporting its youth ministry program.
With a devoted husband and nine children, DesRosier models healthy living, promotes forgiveness and demonstrates the harmony between the Blackfeet and Christian ways of life.
“The strength I get from my faith is immeasurable,” she said. “I spend time with Jesus every morning before work. He is my springboard, walking with me every day. In the difficult situations, His grace just comes in and takes over.”
Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity
Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi
St. Gabriel Mercy Center was established in 1999 to serve several communities in Bolivar County, an area where Catholics comprise less than 1 percent of the population. Located in Mound Bayou in the northwest quadrant of the diocese, this town was founded by freed slaves in 1887 and is the oldest all-black community in the United States.
Today Mound Bayou has 1,500 people, with few businesses and few jobs. Poverty is pervasive. To assist the community, the Franciscan sisters who staff St. Gabriel are dedicated to partnering with local organizations and schools to help residents thrive. The Center has several programs: senior outreach, St. Gabriel Closet, parenting, computer learning lab, GED, social work, volunteer, sewing, emergency assistance and summer youth.
Franciscan Sister Monica Mary DeQuardo is executive director of the Center. “In Mound Bayou, despite the beauty of the people and the magnanimous history whence the town emanates, there are many who stand on the margins of life, whether by choice or by chance,” she said. “That is who we help.”
Pedro de Jesus Almazan
Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri
Originally from El Salvador, Pedro de Jesus Almazan and his wife fled violence in their country and arrived in California in 2000. Shortly afterwards, they moved to the town of Marshall, Missouri for better job prospects. Attending at St. Peter Church, he realized that only a handful of the area’s Hispanics practiced their faith.
With teams of door-to-door evangelizers, he began to organize faith groups and retreats. Since Almazan’s arrival in 2002, the church, which seats 500, is now usually full for the Sunday Spanish Mass. When the pastor needs assistance for cleaning, upkeep, meals or other services, Hispanics always volunteer. These contributions are helping the parish to grow.
Across the diocese, Almazan has started 46 small groups with members engaged in more than 40 ministries serving each other, their parish or the local community. He has also been part of the diocesan Hispanic leadership advisory committee.
In addition to these many ministries, he works full time at a meat processing plant and is studying to become a permanent deacon.
Sitka Pregnancy Center
Diocese of Juneau, Alaska
The city and borough of Sitka is a community of 9,000 located on Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska near Juneau. The area was originally settled by the Tlingit people over 10,000 years ago and was part of Russia until 1867.
Last year, a group of concerned citizens opened the Sitka Pregnancy Center to help pregnant women find emotional and spiritual comfort and assistance with material needs. This same group had recently formed a coalition that successfully removed Planned Parenthood from their community.
The Center provides free pregnancy testing, maternity, infant and toddler clothing, diapers, furniture and other items. It also offers prenatal education materials, counseling and peer support. It has an “Earn While You Learn” program to help with financial support. Its services are open to all in need.
The Center works with local churches and other organizations to meet the needs of its clients. Its ministry is a living example of Christ’s presence to those in need of hope and encouragement to keep their children.
The Knights of Columbus have joined this effort by purchasing ultrasound units for crisis pregnancy centers in the state.
Sister Mariana Koonce, R.S.M., M.D.
Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee
Since 2012, Sister Mariana Koonce, a Religious Sister of Mercy and medical professional, who wears the traditional habit and veil and a doctor’s white coat, has been providing free, comprehensive mobile health care in eastern Tennessee. Traveling to the most rural sites in Appalachia, where people live in poverty and have little or no access to health care, she and her team of medical volunteers have assisted more than 1,200 patients.
Sister Koonce drives St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic — a custom-made, large trailer equipped as a medical facility — to rural communities where the Catholic Church has had limited presence or no reach at all. In an area where Protestant churches have historically dominated, the first time that many residents encounter the Catholic Church is through the health care provided by Sister Koonce.
She is establishing relationships with people of all denominations and faith, showing them that the Catholic Church is a strong partner in providing basic health care on a regular basis to the neediest.
“We strive to be the face, heart and hands of Jesus and to meet Jesus in each person,” she said.
Father Juan Moreno
Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico
Ordained in 1960, Father Juan Moreno has labored in the field of priestly ministry in both Mexico and New Mexico. At age 91 he continues to extend his consecrated hands to his diverse flock.
Previously serving as pastor and currently residing at St. Genevieve Church in Las Cruces, he serves his daily liturgical duties as well as lends a hand at other parishes when a pastor is ill or out of town. He maintains a robust schedule of hearing confessions and offering spiritual counseling. He spends extensive time ministering to patients in local hospitals, where he offers the Eucharist, Reconciliation and Sacrament of the Sick in a tireless effort to lessen suffering among the mainly immigrant populations he serves and to aid in their recovery.
Father Moreno demonstrates a humility in service that endears him to the spiritually-thirsty communities where he works. His spirit of generosity touches everyone and gives a practical, ongoing witness to the message of Jesus. He makes visible the Good Samaritan, serving all who are in need, even at an age when he is well past the time of retirement.
Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky
After teaching for 13 years in a Catholic grade school, Pat was called to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in 1990 to serve the residents of Appalachian Kentucky. During her one-year commitment, she worked in several programs, including dropout prevention and counseling, and connected with the faith community of Mother of Good Counsel Church in Hazard. She stayed a second year. In 1993, she accepted the position of pastoral associate and her roots in the area took hold.
For 26 years, Pat has energetically served the community, now as director of parish life. The parish has 74 households over a five-county region in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. With some families traveling an hour or more to attend Mass, Pat recognizes the importance of making the Sunday experience a special time of worship, formation and fellowship.
Since the parish has no full-time pastor now, she plans the liturgical celebrations, including playing guitar at Mass, organizes the parish finances and makes sure the facilities are in working order. She directs religious formation for adults and children, heads the RCIA program and supervises outreach ministries. Under her leadership, the parish serves 350 people annually and the local Board of Community Ministries, of which Pat is a member, serves an additional 350.
Her initial call to be a short-term volunteer in Appalachia turned into a deep, impactful relationship with the rural poor.
Sister Norma Edith Muñoz González M.C.P.
Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas
Sister Norma Edith Muñoz González has been a Missionary Catechist of the Poor for 51 years, serving communities in her native Mexico, Texas and Arkansas. She has worked in pastoral care, youth ministry, Bible study groups and visiting people in their homes. “Many Hispanic Catholics feel abandoned, living in the shadows of society and they are leaving the Church,” she said. “We listen to their trials, fears, hopes and dreams.”
Her work with immigrants expands outside traditional faith formation and includes accompanying them to human service offices, medical appointments, the police department, immigration or detention centers to translate or to simply be with them.
Her presence is joyful. One sister colleague said of her, “As a young adult, I met Sister Norma at church. With a guitar in hand and a smile on her face, she attracted us with music, formed a choir, taught Scriptures and helped us to integrate and form the faith community of our parish.”
Now as director of Hispanic ministry for the diocese, she gives special attention to preparing leaders within the Hispanic community to carry out the ministries of the Church. She will lead the Diocesan Encuentro conference in November 2017.
Edwin and Kathryn Loskill
Diocese of Lubbock, Texas
Footsteps in Faith (FIF) is a ministry co-founded, funded, promoted and organized by Edwin and Kathryn Loskill to provide annual diocesan-wide Bible conferences. The event started in 2003 with 125 participants and now attracts 1,500 to 1,900. Held in early February each year, often at Holy Spirit Parish in Lubbock to accommodate the crowds, the conference attracts people from throughout the United States and some foreign countries. Notable speakers include Drs. Scott Hahn, Brant Pitre and Michael Barber.
The Loskills founded FIF when they realized they had gaps in their own understanding of the Bible and believed other Catholics might be in the same boat. Attendees include priests, deacons, religious, catechists and lay people. Many lay people experience powerful conversions and a return to the faith and to the sacraments.
Participants include Catholics, non-practicing Catholics, people of other faiths and those with no faith tradition. Many parishes make attending this event mandatory for their catechists and for parents of children preparing to receive the sacraments. The diocese’s deacon candidates are also required to attend. For many people, FIF is the only catechesis they receive all year.
Diocese of Marquette, Michigan
Mike Malnar directs Alpha Omega residential rehabilitation facility in Iron Mountain for men transitioning from prison to society. He came to this position through personal experience. After a medical discharge from the Marines he became addicted to alcohol which led to arrests for the next 21 years. In 2014, while back in jail, he was introduced to Catholic ministry. Upon his release from jail a few months later, he took the leadership position at Alpha Omega.
Since Malnar’s arrival the facility has become a safe, drug-free home environment that has successfully transitioned 42 men into their communities. He partners with area businesses to ensure that residents quickly find employment. The Alpha Omega house is centered on Christ. Malnar promotes the healing powers of faith and engages with local faith communities to ensure that each resident is adopted by a parish.
“I want to fulfill what God calls me to do,” he said. “To make a friend and bring a friend to Jesus, and perform my duties with love, compassion, kindness and understanding.”
Malnar continues to receive training in recovery facility management and peer recovery coaching. His leadership is widely recognized in the diocese and other communities have requested his expertise in developing their own residential rehabilitation facilities.
Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama
The City of St. Jude Parish in Montgomery was founded in 1934 to create “a center for the religious, charitable, education and industrial advancement of the Negro people.” It included a church, school, social service center and the first integrated hospital in the Southeast. A health care facility for developmentally disabled children was added. The parish was the final campsite for the marchers of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march.
Douglas Watson was born in the parish’s hospital, graduated from its school, is a longtime parishioner and became executive director of City of St. Jude Parish in 2008. Located in the heart of the community it serves, its mission is to help the poor, elderly and children, particularly with the growing issue of hunger and food insecurity.
Services include a food pantry that provides a monthly average of 10,000 pounds of dry goods and meats to 800 people. A soup kitchen serves about 125 hot breakfasts every Saturday. The St. Jude apartments provide low-cost housing for the elderly. And the pediatric nursing home serves 58 developmentally disabled children.
Since Watson became director, the number of people the parish serves has grown from 2,000 to more than 9,500 and the number of volunteers has increased from 10 to more than 80. He has streamlined the organization and created vital ministries to serve the vulnerable.
Father Enrique Herrera, V.F.
Diocese of Monterey, California
As a child in Mexico, Father Enrique Herrera had heard of Salinas Valley, California because his father traveled there regularly as a migrant worker. His family eventually immigrated there and he entered seminary after high school. His work ethic, intelligence and dedication caught the attention of the bishop of Monterey who asked him to join the diocese. He has served the poor in multiple parishes ever since, primarily working with Hispanics.
Father Herrera is pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield, a city of 16,000 in Salinas Valley, comprised mainly of immigrants, many from Oaxaca, Mexico. Nearly half of the area’s population is under 21. The annual per capita income is about $14,000. With gangs, domestic violence, poverty and immigration concerns, the challenges abound. Father Herrera gives special attention to guiding young people not only through faith formation but also through soccer and basketball leagues.
The parish provides many services, including a food bank, English classes, immigration education and assistance programs, nutrition and parenting classes, and religious formation. Father Herrera provides daily Bible classes at the church that draw more than 400 participants during times when agricultural fields are dormant. Many attendees of these programs become new or returned Catholics.
Recognizing his leadership and pastoral gifts, he was chosen as head of the vicariate for Salinas Valley and now assists surrounding communities as well.
Sister Lois Byrne, P.B.V.M.
Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota
For 35 years, Sister Lois Byrne has been a member of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an apostolic community of consecrated religious women dedicated to helping the poor and vulnerable. For her entire career, she has served as a social worker, spiritual director and clinical counselor.
Her ministries include pregnancy counseling, post-abortion healing and adoption placement. In the diocese, she serves as a resource to six regional chapters of the Council of Catholic Women, a liaison to five crisis pregnancy counseling resources, a first responder for Minnesota Department of Health medical reserve corps and a member of a multi-county task force “Hearts for Freedom” to address human trafficking within and outside of Minnesota.
Modeling the preferential option for the poor, one of the core values of Catholic social teaching, she is known to be nonjudgmental and nondiscriminatory. She is respectful of her clients’ right to be self-reliant, but helps them design treatment plans and take charge of their future.
“Action is the normal outflow of my faith,” she said.
Diocese of Portland, Maine
In 1991 Dominican Brother Irénée Richard, a deacon, founded St. Martin de Porres Residence for the homeless in Lewiston. The residence has been a lifeline for more than 3,700 men and women. Guests receive an evening meal, a place to stay overnight, a hot shower and breakfast in the morning. During the day, they must work to better their situation through counseling, employment or school.
The city of Lewiston is one of the poorest in Maine, and the people he serves are those most in need. “We welcome our guests with open arms,” he said. “No matter what they have done or what their issues are, we accept them, without judging or labeling them.”
He interacts with the guests daily and takes a personal interest in encouraging them to build a new life. “For many, we become their second family,” he added. “We are there to help, not to enable, so they have to be motivated.”
St. Martin de Porres can host 10 guests per night. Many who arrive are in recovery and trying to get back on their feet, but they find a home here that is peaceful and faith-filled where they are finally able to make a fresh start. Some guests end up staying and working there. Staffed by volunteers and funded by donations, the home fills a vital role for the homeless in Lewiston.
Sister Karen Bland, O.S.B.
Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado
Located in Grand Junction, Grand Valley Catholic Outreach offers emergency services to those in need. It is a collaborative effort of four parishes, with a staff of 12 and more than 500 volunteers. Benedictine Sister Karen Bland has led the organization for 18 years.
The organization provides a range of services for thousands annually. For example, last year more than 27,000 visited their Day Center, which offers emergency, transitional and permanent housing. The clothing bank had almost 30,000 shoppers. The soup kitchen served more than 68,000 guests. More than 1,300 books were distributed to children. The organization serves clients of many ethnicities and faith traditions. It offers dignity and respect to each person who walks through the doors.
Sister Bland, who speaks three languages and holds five degrees, responds quickly to the needs in her community. When action needs to be taken, she takes charge. After identifying a plan, she simply says, “We are going to accomplish this” and somehow it happens. She believes, “If you go into a beautiful space that’s clean, you’re going to feel better about yourself.” With her unflagging energy and can-do spirit, she inspires her colleagues and the thousands of people who come to her for help.
Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota
Deacon Ben Black Bear, Jr. was born on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in south-central South Dakota into a Lakota Catholic family of the Sicangu band. For 12 years he was educated at St. Francis Mission, a Jesuit boarding school founded in 1886 on Rosebud. His first language was Lakota. He considered the priesthood but did not want to leave the reservation for seminary, so became a commissioned lay minister and was ordained a deacon more than 40 years ago.
Deacon Bear’s home base is St. Charles Church at St. Francis Mission, where he preaches, officiates at funerals and carries out pastoral ministries. The mission serves 26,000 Lakota through six parishes, two addiction recovery centers, a Catholic elementary school, a religious education center, a dental clinic, a Lakota museum and a radio station, where Bear records prayers and other announcements in Lakota and English for daily broadcasts.
He also directs the Lakota studies program at the Mission where he is dedicated to preserving the language and culture of the Lakota people. “I enjoy the cross-cultural sharing of information,” he said. “For me, there has never been any conflict between the Catholic faith and Lakota identity. Most of my life has been a blending of the two.”
Sister Barbara Ellen Apaceller, C.S.J.
Diocese of Salina, Kansas
The first years of Sister Apaceller’s life were dramatic. She was born on a train in Austria while her parents were escaping the brutal demands of communism in Hungary. Five years later her parents uprooted the family and immigrated to the United States. Fortunately, the Sisters of St. Joseph lived down the block from her family and they became instrumental in her life. She was received into the congregation in 1965.
She was immediately drawn to helping young people become closer to God. For the past 33 years, she has directed youth ministries and religious education for the diocese, with the help of only two part-time employees. Year after year she has developed, strengthened and increased participation in youth programs throughout the diocese.
One example of a successful program she created is Prayer and Action, a one-week mission trip to help young people understand the needs of the impoverished. Visiting poverty-stricken areas in rural parts of the diocese, the youth help those in need by painting houses, cleaning homes and mowing lawns. Through labor and prayer, the program evangelizes and inspires young Catholics.
With her relentless passion for youth, she is building leaders to fill our churches and guide the future of the Church.
Rubén and Rosario Cano
Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah
After years of being active in social justice ministries, particularly with immigrants, Rubén and Rosario Cano now serve as lay ministers at San Rafael Mission Church in remote Huntington.
As a bilingual and bicultural Mexican-American family, they encourage, accompany and pray with those who have immigrated to Utah to seek employment in the coal mines and other rural industries. Rubén himself is a miner and was deeply impacted by the Crandall Canyon coal mine collapse in 2007 that took the lives of several of his friends and co-workers. He was part of the rescue effort, risking his life to save those inside and was a key player in the spiritual outreach to miners’ families who were devastated by the loss of loved ones. He is active in United Mine Workers of America to ensure the dignity of all employees and just working conditions and compensation.
The Canos were formally trained for lay ministry through the Emaús program, which they pursued over four years in Salt Lake City. They lead religious education and community activities at San Rafael, but also travel throughout Utah to reach out to Hispanics, who number roughly 400,000 and represent 70 percent of the state’s Catholics.
Sister Maria Asopesio Isoefo, S.M.S.M.
Diocese of San Bernardino
In 2011 Sister Maria Asopesio Isoefo, S.M.S.M. arrived on the campus of California State University San Bernardino to serve as campus minister at the Catholic Newman Club. Originally from the Philippines, she is a Missionary Sister of the Society of Mary and has also served in Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and Samoa.
The university has 19,000 students — 80 percent are their families’ first generation to attend college, 60 percent are Hispanic and 63 percent are low income. With a membership of 1,300 students and 13 student leaders, the Newman Club holds bi-weekly Masses, which Sister Isoefo coordinates. Additionally she gathers students weekly for spiritual direction and faith sharing.
As the current facilities are bursting at the seams, a new Newman home will be constructed in the fall of 2017 near campus to accommodate the growing needs. The new home has received great support from people in the community who understand that when college students are active in campus ministry they are more likely to be active parishioners after college.
Sister Isoefo’s love for Christ, her dedication to social justice and her ability to create strong relationships have been instrumental in helping her to lead the students. “Students are thirsting for a connection with God and each other,” she said.
Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico
Thresholds is a program to connect inmates who are leaving detention facilities with faith communities who can provide support and encouragement. The transition back to families, society, employment and responsibilities is difficult and requires broad reinforcement.
Herman Delgado became a Thresholds mentor to inmates in 2008 and its program coordinator in 2015. A licensed social worker and alcoholism and substance abuse counselor, he manages a team of 18 mentors. He trains, supervises and counsels the mentors. Currently the group has five inmate mentees. Mentors form small teams to focus on one inmate. They meet the inmate before prison release to set goals. Afterwards they continue meeting regularly for a year to encourage and provide links to resources, such as housing, jobs, clothing, food, legal advocacy, transportation, recovery programs and parishes.
Thresholds was started in 2000 as a joint venture between the archdiocese and the New Mexico Corrections Department with the goal of reducing recidivism by involving the Church and faith communities. Delgado is compassionately leading this important ministry of mercy and forgiveness. “Because I am doing God’s work, I am serving God by serving others,” he said.
Betty Kwan Chinn
Diocese of Santa Rosa, California
As a child, Betty Kwan Chinn was homeless on the streets of China. She relied on her faith and drive to survive. Today she is using these same tools to give others a path out of homelessness or to simply make their journey easier. Based in Eureka she serves the homeless throughout Humboldt County.
Rising before dawn, Chinn packs and boards her vehicle, Betty’s Blue Angels food truck, which provides more than 450 meals, twice a day, 365 days a year. The numbers are staggering. The people she serves are the homeless, disenfranchised and forgotten. Many are mentally ill, substance abusers, teenage runaways or veterans. Most are hiding under bridges, near railroads or in the bushes. Chinn finds them and feeds them.
She also offers a family shelter for the homeless and provides a Day Center to help with writing resumes, securing professional clothing for interviews, psychological counseling and providing phones and computers. She manages Betty’s Showers, a facility to offer showers and laundry to the homeless.
Chinn is transforming the lives of the homeless in Humboldt. With her faith as her inspiration, she is uplifting the dignity of each person and showing them Christ’s love, without judgment.
Sister Nuala Mulleady, M.F.I.C.
Diocese of Savannah, Georgia
A native of County Roscommon, Ireland, Sister Mulleady joined the Missionary Franciscan of the Immaculate Conception order and served as a missionary in South America before landing in Valdosta. She directs the social services at St. John the Evangelist Parish, a vibrant community of nearly 1,000 families that encompasses three counties.
In 2011 she refurbished a building near the parish to become St. Francis Outreach Center. The Center, which is staffed by volunteers, includes a thrift store to provide clothing and household items, a food pantry and space to receive social or spiritual nourishment.
“Many people come for clothes and food,” she said, “But deep down they really need prayers and faith. We provide that, too.” Sister Mulleady also leads other pastoral ministries that reach out to the area’s migrant workers, homeless and rural poor. She visits local prisons to pray with the inmates.
She is described as the hub that connects many “spokes” of Catholic and non-Catholic communities in southwestern Georgia. As she improves the quality of life for those on the margins, her gentleness, leadership and organizational skills are greatly appreciated.
Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri
The goal of Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri (CCSOMO) is to empower those in need and strengthen families to become self-sufficient. Rooted in Christian faith, it offers social services and disaster relief services to help people thrive, improve quality of life and gain a sense of hope.
Maura Taylor was named executive director in 2011 following the Joplin tornado, one of the deadliest and the single most costly tornado in the United States. At the time, CCSOMO had two small offices, three employees and served 100 people. She immediately opened an office in Joplin and a year later, CCSOMO became the largest provider of disaster case management in the state. Today the organization has 12 programs, nine offices, 85 employees and serves thousands annually.
New programs include LifeHouse Crisis Maternity Home to serve homeless, pregnant women who may stay in the home for one year after giving birth to work toward self-reliance. The Support Services for Veteran Families program helps homeless veterans secure housing. And the most recent program is a Job Training and Apprenticeship program to teach people trades, such as construction, to assist in home repair and rebuilding.
“If we can give people hope, real changes can happen,” Taylor said.
Sister Phyllis Wilhelm, O.S.F.
Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin
Long before the Diocese of Superior was established in 1905, Catholic missionaries had forged a dynamic presence along the lake shore and riverbanks of northern Wisconsin. French Jesuit missionaries were among the first Europeans to trek through the wilderness, by canoe and snowshoe, seeking to introduce the Christian faith to Native Americans who inhabited the fertile land. The diocese’s 16 counties have 105 parishes, 15 Catholic elementary schools and serve more than 78,000 Catholics.
Sister Wilhelm, a Sister of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, has served the diocese and its native communities since the 1970s. She has served as teacher, principal and now as pastoral associate at St. Mary Parish on the Bad River Indian Reservation. The Bad River Band, one of six Ojibwa bands in the state, has more than 7,000 members, but only about 1,500 live on the reservation.
Through Sister Wilhelm’s initiative, the parish has a religious education program to prepare Native American children for the sacraments. She has established a home visiting program and is training and managing volunteers for outreach services. She is also helping to incorporate native traditions into the liturgy and increase lay involvement in the parish.
Bearing the light of Christ in a community struggling with poverty, declining population, aging demographics and priest shortages can be demanding, but Sister Wilhelm has spent years embracing the challenge with determination and compassion.
Father Ponchie Vasquez, O.F.M.
Diocese of Tucson, Arizona
The Tohono O’odham Nation’s land base is nearly 5,000 square miles and straddles the United States-Mexico border west of Tucson. It has a main reservation, a vast stretch of desert the size of Connecticut and the San Solano Missions Parish. It has one small town, Sells, and about 70 villages. Tohono O’odham means “desert people” and about 13,000 members live at this location.
The reservation faces serious social problems including high suicide rates, increasing gang activity, unemployment, immigration issues and illegal drug trafficking. Eighty-five percent of the reservation’s population is Catholic and served by the San Solano Missions. About 40 of its villages have a church, and the majority have Mass only once per month.
The Franciscan Friars have been at the Mission with the Tohono O’odham since 1908. Father Vasquez joined the order in 1986 and became pastor of San Solano Missions in 2009. With the parish staff and lay volunteers, he provides pastoral care for parishioners, conducts sacramental class and trains new lay leaders. He also creates beautiful liturgies that are engaging and participatory. As he travels from church to church, he typically arrives 30 minutes early to ring the bell, calling parishioners to Mass. He is beloved by the Native Americans.
“Mission work, service and ministry flow from the reality of how much God loves us,” he said. “When we are loved, we love.”
Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma
As a fifth-grade teacher at Marquette Catholic school in Tulsa, Pat Hinson asked a question: Why not educate children with special needs at our school? She researched the issue and 12 years ago developed a program called Religious Inclusive Student Education (RISE). Marquette is the first parish school in the diocese to implement a program for children with special needs.
As director of RISE, Hinson is the learning resources coordinator and oversees the education of more than 50 students with various learning challenges including Down Syndrome, autism, hearing impairment and mild learning disabilities. The program provides support and modifications for special-needs students to be educated in their parish school, alongside their siblings.
The RISE initiative benefits not only the students with special needs but also the typical students who experience first-hand the unconditional love of Christ by modeling Catholic social teaching, learning to accept all God’s children and understanding tolerance.
Normally the focus for students with special needs is on the challenges and the limitations they face, but the focus of RISE is to explore what these children can do and expecting great things from them. “Strength lies in differences, not similarities,” she said.
For 28 years Hinson has been a parishioner of Christ the King Church, which supervises the school, and she participates in many other parish ministries.
Diocese of Yakima, Washington
Marcus Ayers attended Central Washington University, was confirmed through its campus ministry program in 2010 and upon graduating, started a career in campus ministry. Two years ago, he became the director of Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) at his alma mater.
The impact of his presence is already apparent with Mass attendance almost doubling since 2015 and a growing interest in the group’s faith gatherings.
Ayers has shaped programs with the aim of helping students develop a lifelong love of the Catholic faith. He enthusiastically coordinates Bible studies, men’s and women’s groups, RCIA and confirmation classes, social events and retreats. Students are involved in the planning and execution of all activities. They organize ministries such as social justice, which focuses on service projects and pro-life activities, as well as music and liturgical ministries.
“A large part of why I am Catholic today is because of the campus ministry when I was a university student,” he said. “I am now in the position to impact others in the same way.”