For more than 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.
This year’s group of 47 nominees—pastors, sisters, lay leaders, brothers, 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.
Diocese of Amarillo, Texas
For more than 30 years, Diann Gilmore has served the homeless, poor and addicted. A social worker, she is executive director of the Downtown Women’s Center in Amarillo, a place of compassion and hope which offers women and children a chance to stay together and regain their footing. The center currently serves more than 70 women and 65 children in its three homeless shelters, although more than 22,000 have walked through the doors for its services, including sobriety programs, job training and health care. “This is not a job for us,” she said, “This is a ministry. We serve women who have lost everything—families, employment and even their teeth. Eighty percent have been beaten and abused. These are survivors.” She helps these women understand that Christ loves them unconditionally and that they are important and worthy. As a member of St. Mary’s Cathedral, she draws on her faith to help transform Amarillo’s most vulnerable residents.
Deacon Mick Fornelli
Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska
In Alaska, priests cover enormous territories and rely heavily on laypeople to help them reach isolated Catholics. In 2009, Mick Fornelli, a California native who has spent his career in banking, business and government, was ordained to the diaconate in Anchorage and appointed its director of deacon ministry and formation. In this role, he has mentored 12 men to become permanent deacons, with 10 more and in formation, including two Hispanics. Part of his mission is to expand the diaconate to remote mission parishes and increase its ethnic diversity. New deacons have already impacted more than 6,000 families, and the upcoming ordinations will impact an additional 3,000. A deacon will soon serve St. Christopher by the Sea, the westernmost parish in the United States, where a priest visits only once a month. Based at St. Patrick’s Parish, Fornelli teaches sacramental preparation classes, manages outreach programs and serves as a member of the pastoral and finance councils.
Father Jorge Morales-Rivera
Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico
While Father Jorge Morales-Rivera knew he would become a priest since a young age and joined the seminary at age 17, it was a recent event that confirmed that this was a perfect calling for him. When Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, the island was devastated. Father Morales was immediately energized. As pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Vega Baja, he surveyed his damaged church and then set off to help parishioners and nearby residents. With volunteers, he delivered meals, water and basic supplies to hundreds, who were suffering with no power, transportation or outside help. He was usually the first responder to isolated families and communities. One of his most creative services was offering the parish phone, which miraculously could reach the mainland, for “Free, one-minute calls to the U.S.” Lines were long. “For me, faith and work are hand in hand,” he said. “And my work is to look after the weakest and most disadvantaged.”
Deacon Omar Torres
Diocese of Baker, Oregon
A recent report cited the increase of Latinos in Oregon—now 12 percent of the state’s population, up from 8 percent in 2000—the year that Omar Torres became a deacon. A native of Mexico, he understands the language barrier and cultural challenges of being an Hispanic Catholic in the United States and wants to make the journey easier for others. After ordination, he was assigned to St. Mary’s Parish in Pendleton, with a growing Hispanic congregation. He is invaluable there as “the facilitator, carpenter, counselor, moderator and speaker,” say parishioners. He leads classes, visits prisoners and was one of the founders of the annual NW Catholic’s Men’s Conference in 2001. Recently, he has added health care to his services, with a diabetes prevention program and first aid and CPR classes for Hispanic youth. His devotion to the Latino community is felt throughout the diocese, which spans 66,000 square miles. He is welcoming, humble and compassionate. “All of us can show God’s mercy and love to one another,” he said.
Diocese of Beaumont, Texas
Linda Domino heads an event, St. Joseph Altar Celebration, that is based on a centuries old tradition. Years ago, when a famine hit Sicily, villagers prayed to St. Joseph for help. When rains came and crops flourished, they prepared a large meal to honor St. Joseph. The feast continues annually in Italy and is also celebrated in the United States. At St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica in Beaumont, which has held a celebration on the feast of St. Joseph for 30 years, Domino oversees the 100 volunteers, who prepare for weeks to host an Italian meal for more than 1,000 people, and to give food to local shelters. In cookies alone, they bake 63,000. The meal at the church is for everyone, including the poor and homeless. Additionally, funds raised from the event, which total nearly $1 million in 30 years, are distributed to programs in the diocese, including the Southeast Texas Food Bank, which has seen a jump in demand after Hurricane Harvey. “I do this to honor St. Joseph,” said Domino, “And because so many people suffer from hunger.”
Father Eugene Neff
Diocese of Belleville, Illinois
In the 44 years that Father Eugene Neff has been director of the diocese’s Ministry to the Sick and Aged, the numbers of people impacted annually are huge: 11,000 hospital patients, 5,000 nursing home residents and 90 volunteers. When he started he was young and now he has joined the ranks of the seniors. Under his leadership, the program has expanded from its original purpose of bringing sacraments to the vulnerable and now includes a focus on wellness, with pastoral and educational ministries. He writes reflections on aging for diocesan papers, manages the annual Nursing Home Picnic with 300 residents from 30 facilities and visits those in prisons. “Those who are ill, disabled or aged cannot go to church for spiritual enrichment; my work is about bringing the Church to them so they are not abandoned and can maintain their relationship with God,” he said. Additionally, he is the diocese’s vicar for retired priests and pastor of St. George Church in New Baden, with 435 families.
Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi
The day that Bishop Louis Kihneman and several colleagues of Brenda Sargent nominated her for the Lumen Christi Award, was significant: it was the day she was called home by God after a battle with cancer. While saddened, they expressed enormous gratitude for her work. For 29 years, she was a youth minister in the diocese. As they noted, “Perhaps no other area in the life of the Church has a more profound impact on the growth of the Catholic faith in a community than the Office of Youth Ministry.” Sargent mentored tirelessly one-on-one with young people and led them in activities, including the Annual Youth Conference, missionary trips, leadership training and peer ministry groups. She fully understood the importance of being present for teens, giving them guidance and showing them a life of integrity. “Her legacy of faith, love and passion will live on in her family, friends and the thousands of youth who have been inspired by her,” said the bishop.
Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota
From India, the congregation of Teresian Carmelites was welcomed to the diocese in 2015. Three sisters established a convent at Spirit of Life Church in Mandan and jumped in to energize the Mother Teresa Outreach program, which the parish has operated for 38 years. Their mission is to serve the poor. With 230 volunteers, they distribute more than 300,000 pounds of food annually, provide 1,200 meals monthly through a food pantry and soup kitchen and help 60 families a year to furnish their homes. Sisters Mary Michael, Amal Grace and Josephine are leading a compassionate response to the needs of the poor, providing them with dignity, and affirming God’s love for each person, regardless of circumstances. “We take care of the sick and vulnerable,” said Sister Mary Michael. “We offer psychological and spiritual support, food and whatever they need.” With these simple acts of kindness, they are changing lives and helping each person reach his or her greatest potential.
Salt & Light Catholic Radio
Diocese of Boise, Idaho
Salt & Light Catholic Radio, founded in 2009, is reaching thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics in the Idaho community. Its mission is to evangelize and teach through multi-media communications. With two employees, a few contractors and many volunteers, the group identifies and produces programs to broadcast through various radio stations. Weekly programs include, Journeys of Faith with a deacon, and Go Ask Father, for grade school children to ask questions. Special live broadcasts cover diocesan and Salt & Light events, such as the annual Men’s Conference with 800 participants. Programs are also offered in Spanish, since more than half the diocese’s residents are Hispanic. Salt & Light radio stations extend to more than 80 percent of the diocese’s Catholics. Organizers calculate that 20,000 to 30,000 people tune in each week. This important ministry reaches homebound seniors, the imprisoned, rural and isolated communities and illiterate residents. Radio is such a valuable medium to spread the faith to those without a church community and to those who want continuous access to stories of faith.
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.
Rita Cabrera Guerrero
Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, Guam
For more than 30 years, Rita Cabrera Guerrero has served the Catholic Church at her parish and the diocese. At San Vincente Ferrer Parish, which serves several small communities, she has been a CCE catechist and liturgical lay minister. In 2014, she was named by the bishop as the official diocesan translator and embarked on an important mission to translate Church documents into Chamorro, the local native language. She is working to translate the new edition of the Roman Missal, liturgical prayer books, hymns, novenas and the New Testament Bible. This labor of love is important because the Chamorros, the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, including Guam, have a rich Catholic tradition after more than 300 years of Spanish colonization. Over the years, it has been the Catholic Church that has helped preserve the Chamorro language and its culture, which is based in traditional Catholic family values. Weekly translations of the readings, which Guerrero leads, are used not only in the parishes of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, but also in the Archdiocese of Agana in Guam.
Sister Teresa Frawley, OSF
Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming
For 37 years, Sister Teresa Frawley has been serving the Eastern Shoshone and North Arapaho tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation. With 27,000 residents, living on 3,500 square miles, the reservation is larger than the state of Delaware or Rhode Island. Sister Frawley, a member of the Order of St. Francis and raised in Ireland, is religion education coordinator for the St. Stephens Indian Mission and works in both St. Joseph Church in Ethete and Blessed Sacrament Church in Fort Washakie. She prepares Catholics for the sacraments, visits the sick and elderly, organizes celebrations and helps parents raise their children. As Bishop Steven Biegler noted, “The reservation is one of the poorest places in the United States, with alcohol and drug additions, high suicide and violence rates and an average life expectancy of 53 years. Sister Frawley is a beacon of faith.” An older resident also expressed her appreciation, “Everyone else comes and goes and Sister has stayed.”
Father Enrique Garcia-Elizalde
Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa
Since 1990, the Hispanic population in the state has increased six-fold to nearly 200,000. Father Enrique Garcia-Elizalde arrived from Mexico in 2010 to serve them. He guides the diocese’s seminarians, as a full-time teacher at Conception Seminary College, in Missouri, where many of them attend. He teaches Spanish and Hispanic culture classes. He also serves as spiritual director to young adults, holds small faith group gatherings and facilitates Cursillo retreats and other apostolic movements. He serves about 800 families, including more than 3,000 Hispanics, and always looks for ways where both parents and their children can grow together in their faith. He was incarnated into the diocese in 2014. Bishop Richard Pates said, “Father Enrique is charismatic and creative towards the youth and reaches them effectively. He looks for opportunities to advise the youth to see the gift of their vocation, to know they are called first to holiness.”
Father Michael Schmitz
Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota
Every so often, someone seems to be unusually bountiful. Father Michael Schmitz is one of those people. For the last 13 years, he has been director of youth ministry for the diocese and chaplain for the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. His impact has been enormous. The Newman Center’s website has 38,000 visits each month; his weekly homily podcasts reach more than 3,000; his videos on Ascension Presents have more than 1,000,000 views; thousands are drawn to his conference presentations, including 13,000 at a FOCUS SEEK conference; at UMD, Sunday Mass attendance has increased from 100 to more than 400; daily Mass is standing-room only; daily Confessions are increasing; and his recent book, “Made for Love” is popular. Hundreds of young people annually attend retreats, mission trips and other faith groups. Father Schmitz is an advocate for vocations and has inspired six women who entered religious life, three men who became priests and six seminarians. And behind all these statistics is a man who is all about compassion. “Recognizing the crisis of loneliness and meaninglessness today, there is nothing more powerful than communicating a dynamic and life-changing relationship with God and His Church to a young person,” he said.
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.
Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska
In this diocese, Catholics often struggle to gain a sense of community. With only 18 priests to cover 46 parishes across 409,000 square miles—an area one and a half the size of Texas—most parishes are not even accessible by road. Catholics are isolated. A few years ago, Michael Kramer had an idea to change that. He proposed to the diocese to hold a first-ever family conference, to bring people together. “I wanted a positive event to remind people our faith is a beautiful gift from God and we can be proud to be Catholic,” he said. The bishop agreed, but could extend no funding. Kramer and his team of volunteers took the challenge and ran. Kramer, a 73-year-old Air Force veteran and retired biologist who has lived nearly 50 years in Alaska, was tireless. In February, the “Families Fully Alive” three-day conference attracted 700 men, women and children from across Alaska and featured 15 local and national speakers. Kramer’s dream to create a much-needed sense of community among the faithful in mission territory was a huge hit.
Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota
After retiring from a career teaching music, Allen Mehrer heard about a small Catholic school near the U.S.-Canada border that needed help. He started as a volunteer and was soon named as principal, still as a volunteer. St. Ann’s School in Belcourt serves Native American children on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. It is part of St. Ann’s Indian Mission that has served five parishes since 1885. The school charges no tuition. Since Mehrer arrived, enrollment has increased from 30 to 45 students. His role is extremely diverse—helping the school to stay financially solvent, driving children to and from school, connecting with parents, teaching music, and cleaning and maintaining the building. Additionally, he started the “positive action” program to promote a culture of kindness. Through good acts, students earn “positive action” tickets to place in a basket beneath a statue of Mary, in hopes of being picked to ring the church bells. Mehrer has brought stability and safety to his students, many of whom face great struggles at home with poverty, unemployment and broken families.
Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico and Arizona
For 20 years, the Daughters of Charity have served St. Jude Catholic Parish, in Tuba City, Arizona. Located in the northwest corner of the diocese within the Navajo Reservation, this multicultural church encompasses Navajo, Hopi, Filipino, Hispanics and Anglos parishioners and has only a part-time pastor. Sister Mary Frate, pastoral assistant, works to develop lay leadership and supervises the parish office. Sister Catherine France, coordinator of parish outreach, visits the sick, struggling and homebound, with about 800 visits annually, and works closely with St. Vincent DePaul Society. Sister Elizabeth Riddell, director of St. Jude Food bank, helps community members become self-sufficient. The food bank distributes 15,000 food boxes each year. The sisters want to teach and model the concept of a loving God, who loves unconditionally. For some Native American cultures, this idea is not known. Said Fr. Jay Jung, the pastor, “With two parishes, 70 miles apart, I would never be able to serve them adequately without the sisters. They are the vanguards of how the Gospel has a chance to be shared.”
Father Wayne Dziekan
Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan
The diocese is home to more than 10,000 Hispanics and nearly 3,000 seasonal migrants who live in 120 migrant camps. They provide the inspiration and the impetus for Father Wayne Dziekan’s mission. As director of the diocese’s Secretariat for Justice and Peace, he serves as a migrants-rights and immigrants-rights advocate throughout the state, focusing on the dignity of each person person. He connects people with pro-bono immigration and legal services. He addresses trust and civil rights issues between the local community and law enforcement. With a facility for languages and an interest in cultures, he is called by family, criminal and immigration attorneys to bridge gaps in complex cases. Additionally, he leads fact-finding trips to the U.S.-Mexico border and a five-day “Summer Youth Mission Experience” to helps others understand the plight of migrant workers. “There is a certain kind of passion that arises when one’s faith is awakened, that drives one to do what one never had thought of doing, or otherwise felt more comfortable leaving to others. Such a passion feeds my work,” he said.
Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska
After converting to Catholicism and in the midst of raising 11 children, Rashelle Ryan has taught religion for the past 20 years, and has served as director of faith formation at St. Joseph Parish in Broken Bow for 15 years. She plays a pivotal role in bringing about 120 children closer to the faith each year. She plans all First Communion and Confirmation classes and recruits and trains volunteers. She also coordinates a summer religious education program for the parish and its two missions. Providing a safe environment for all youth is a big priority. Remarkably, for the last nine years, she has carried out her ministry after losing her hearing to an illness in 2008, making adjustments as needed. “Now more than ever, it is vital that our young people form a close relationship with Jesus Christ and have a solid understanding of our Catholic faith,” she said. “With so many pulls for our time and attention, it is easy to become distracted and head off course.” She is working hard to keep young people anchored.
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. Additionally, Veronica Lopez coordinates efforts to lead Hispanic young adults. 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.
Father Patrick Travers
Diocese of Juneau, Alaska
In this missionary diocese, spanning nearly 40,000 square miles, with only seven priests who serve nine parishes and 17 missions, each priest covers many miles and wears many hats. Father Patrick Travers is no exception. He is pastor of Holy Name Church and school in Ketchikan; the diocesan judicial vicar, vicar general and chancellor; provides tribunal and legal assistance throughout the whole state; colonel and chaplain in the Air Force Reserves; and a 26-year veteran who has been deployed three times in conflict zones overseas. The diocese itself offers many physical challenges. Located in the state’s Southeastern panhandle, it encompasses a 500-mile string of islands, mountains and fjords, with a population of 75,000. It has 33 communities and most are not accessible by road, only by air or water. About 20 percent of the area’s population is Alaskan Native. Father Travers serves his parishioners loyally. One said, “He is one of the most pastoral priests I know. With a booming voice and a perpetual smile, he does his work with grace and humility.”
Sister Mariana Koonce, RSM
Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee
The work of Sister Marianna Koonce RSM, is both practical and transcendent. As a medical doctor, she provides primary health care to rural residents who have little access to medical facilities and no health insurance. She shows them the merciful face of the Catholic Church, in an area where Catholics are virtually unknown. In 2012, she established the diocese’s Office of Health Services and created St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, a mobile medical clinic that serves five poor communities, with requests from other communities to reach them too. With a network of volunteer medical professionals, she treats several patients with each stop and refers them for further medical treatment as needed. Nearly 80 percent of these residents qualify as “extremely low income” based on federal standards. On her van is written, “Extending the Healing Ministry of Jesus to East Tennessee” a reminder that Jesus is present in their most vulnerable times regardless of their religious background. The Catholic Church is a strong partner in providing health care and investing in communities in need. As Sister Koonce said, “I feel drawn to bring souls to the healing love of Christ and medicine for both body and soul.”
Sister Marie-Paule Willem, FFM
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.
Sister Nancy Edwards, CSJ
Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky
After joining the Congregation of St. Joseph and teaching school in her home state of New York, Sister Nancy Edwards requested a missionary assignment, imagining being sent to a faraway country. Instead, she was asked to go to Appalachian Kentucky to teach Bible school, in an area where Catholics comprise less than one percent of the population. She fell in love with the people and the land and realized that even within the United States, missionary experiences exist. Moving there in 1970, she has spent the last decades in several roles. She is described as a modern day “circuit rider” and makes her rounds in Paintsville teaching at Our Lady of the Mountains School and serving as parish director of religious education and outreach coordinator at St. Michael Church. She even went back to school to become a LPN to help staff the local health department as a public health nurse. Each year, she helps the pastor of St. Michael, Father Terry Hoppenjans, to host volunteer groups who come to support residents in Appalachian. Having worked with Sister Edwards for 53 years, he sums up her ministry as “doing whatever is needed.”
Father Jack Harris
Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas
Since his ordination in 1974, Father Jack Harris has been a teach, coach and pastor; he is currently pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Morrilton and St. Joseph Church in Center Ridge. 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, Father 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.
Diocese of Lubbock, Texas
As 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.”
Deacon Terry Saunders
Diocese of Marquette, Michigan
Throughout his life as a Vietnam veteran, cancer survivor and Michigan State trooper and detective, Terry Saunders has had many heart-racing moments. When he was ordained a deacon in 2010, he knew he would face more. He had already been involved in ministries through his parish, St. Anne in Escanaba, leading youth retreats and outreach programs, as well as managing the St. Vincent de Paul warehouse and the first homeless shelter in the city. More recently, he has become deeply involved with helping men coming out of prison adjust to life outside incarceration. He had seen that many men leaving prison were still battling addictions, returning to dangerous circumstances and returning to jail. Or that they were dying of overdoses. They needed a safe, supportive environment that showed them the love of Jesus. Seeing the success of a residential recovery home at another site in the diocese, he garnered enthusiasm in his community and established a second house, called Alpha Omega II. He expects to serve 25 men each year and provide a much-needed step in their recovery and reentry into society. Despite his anxiety-producing work, Saunders is a calm and nurturing presence.
Father Lukasz Willenberg
Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA
This archdiocese serves 1.8 million worldwide in military installations and hospitals. Father Lukasz Willenberg serves as a Chaplain with the U.S. Army. A Polish national, he served as associate pastor at St. Luke Parish in Barrington, Rhode Island before beginning military service in 2013. He serves at military sites in the U.S. and was deployed for 13 months at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. A serious athlete, he has run many marathons and organizes them among the troops he serves. A year after running the fateful 2013 Boston Marathon, he executed a marathon at Bagram with more than 600 service members. In 2016, he held a marathon for 1,400 at Fort Bragg. Additionally, he provides comfort and healing sacraments to those deployed under life-threatening conditions. Daily, his ministry encompasses counseling, suicide prevention and preparations to transition back to civilian life. “As chaplains we are challenged to be the best the Army offers in measures of spiritual resiliency, physical fitness, mental toughness, technical proficiency and moral character and to make the faith attractive to those we serve,” he said.
Deacon Tim Dolan
Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota
Having farmed outside of Gaylord since 1978, Deacon Tim Dolan understands the rural lifestyle. Ordained a deacon in 2012, he is director of the diocese’s Office of Social Concerns and serves the parishes of St. Michael, St. Mary and Brendan Area Faith Community. As an educator for the Minnesota Extension Service and public schools, he has worked widely with remote communities and is a tireless advocate for the disadvantaged. He is often the first contact for residents in personal, financial and family crisis matters. He works with dairy farmers and commodity producers to promote agricultural initiatives at the local and state levels, bringing together Church leaders from the National Catholic Rural Life movement and Minnesota Catholic Conference to find common ground for family farms, larger corporate farming entities and the diocese’s growing population of immigrant farm workers. Additionally, Dolan is a founding board member of the New Ulm Ministerial Haus, a homeless shelter for young mothers and children. “My work provides the forum to encounter many people and my faith allows me to see the face of Christ in each one,” he said.
Father Donald Sawyer
Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon
Father Donald Sawyer, of Lebanese descent, was ordained a priest in 1974 as part of the Eastern Rite eparchy. He came to Our Lady’s Maronite Parish in Austin, Texas in 1982 and became pastor in 1990. The word Maronite comes from St. Maron, who lived as a Syriac Christian monk in the 5th century and is known for his missionary work, healing and teaching. Since Father Sawyer’s arrival the parish has grown from two dozen families to 150. The church is filled with beautiful icons of Jesus Christ and Mother Mary. During Masses, incense is used and for the words of consecration, Father Sawyer speaks in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke. He is beloved by parishioners and is well-known outside the community, particularly as a regular guest on “The inner life,” a program on Relevant Radio which is broadcast worldwide. Additionally, he manages a parish food pantry that opened in 2014 and serves 40 families weekly.
Diocese of Portland, Maine
Before becoming a priest in 2003, Father Dave Raymond had a long career in teaching. After college, he was a teacher with the Peace Corps in Pala, Chad. Then he returned to Aroostook County in northern Maine, where he grew up, and taught for 22 years, also serving as assistant principal and curriculum director. Then he entered the national seminary of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. to begin a new chapter. He now serves as pastor of the Parish of Precious Blood in Caribou, which includes 10 other mission churches. With two associates, they cover a huge territory, bringing sacraments weekly to these small communities. Father Raymond looks to long-term solutions for his parishioners who struggle. He has established food pantries, financial literacy mentoring programs, cooking and nutrition classes and physical wellness programs. Bishop Robert Deeley is grateful for this sustainable approach. “The “teaching to fish” programs that Father Raymond has created have given great hope and necessary life skills to many. He has supplied them with the tools to lift themselves out of poverty and desolation,” he said.
Father Peter Klink, SJ
Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota
Jesuit Father Peter Klink’s mantra and mission at Red Cloud Indian School is to provide the Lakota children and their families on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with “a brighter future.” Since arriving 40 years ago to teach high school students, and even before he became a priest in 1981, he has aimed to give a boost to young Lakota who face many challenges. He has served the school and Holy Rosary Mission in almost every capacity: teacher, principal, superintendent of schools, director of development, president, pastor and currently, vice president for mission and identity. He has managed a successful Lakota language immersion program at the school for 10 years, which is producing fluent Lakota speakers. He believes that schools need to give any student, but especially Indian students, two things to succeed in college: competency and confidence. Through his dedication, 95 percent of the 2017 graduating class went on to post-secondary education at 23 colleges. “These sons and daughters of God are beloved and meant to make a positive difference in this world,” he said. “They have been gifted with life and given gifts that need discovering and growing.”
Sister Barbara Ellen Apaceller, CSJ
Diocese of Salina, Kansas
While many U.S. dioceses lament a decline in participation in their youth programs, Sister Barbara Ellen Apaceller continues to see growth in the many different programs she leads as director of youth ministry and religious education in the Diocese of Salina, Kansas. In fact, her 34-year leadership in youth ministry has been so effective that other dioceses now look to Salina as a model and mentor. Apaceller, a Sister of St. Joseph, knows that successful youth ministry is about relationships. “God invites us into a relationship, offering us countless opportunities to fall more deeply in love with Him,” she said. One of the ways she fosters that deeper relationship is by developing young leaders and empowering them to take charge. Her youth council of 12 high-school students is elected by their peers and plans the diocese’s annual youth activities. Many of the programs for the younger participants are led by high-school students, college students and seminarians. “The youth are serious about their faith,” she said. “They want a role in the Church. We must give them that opportunity.”
Msgr. James Bridges
Diocese of San Angelo, Texas
There are few people in Midland, Texas, who have impacted as many lives as Msgr. James Bridges, who served as pastor of St. Stephen Parish there for more than 20 years. Shortly after coming to Midland, Father Bridges challenged not only his parishioners but everyone in the city to engage in volunteer service for the poor and needy. In 1998 this call resulted in the founding of Helping Hands of Midland, a new organization dedicated to assisting the poor, for which he purchased a large building with his own money. San Angelo’s Bishop Michael Sis called the organization one of Father Bridges’ “crown jewels” and an “enduring legacy of his Christian care for the poor.” Always striving to heed Jesus’ call to love and serve the “least of these,” Father Bridges leads by example. He also founded the West Texas Food Bank and helped launch the diocese’s prison ministry. For many decades now he has preached, “If you take care of the poor, God will take care of you.” In its new facility in Odessa, the West Texas Food Bank has placed that quote on the wall over a bust of its founder.
Mary’s Mercy Center, Inc.
Diocese of San Bernardino, California
With California’s rate of homelessness twice the national average and one in four children in San Bernardino living in poverty, Mary’s Mercy Center has its work cut out for it. The center, started by the San Bernardino diocese’s Charismatic Renewal Center more than 30 years ago, now serves the area’s poor and homeless with a soup kitchen, emergency food bank, transitional housing, showers, medical screenings, dental care and a clothes closet. More than 300 volunteers serve at Mary’s Mercy Center, where there is a constant flow of poor and homeless people. Over the years of its existence, the needs of the poor and homeless it strives to meet have increased dramatically. Where providing food and clothing for individuals and families once seemed to be enough, now there is a need for housing, help with paying rent, utilities, school supplies, medical services, prescriptions and infant care—and the list goes on. The center operates on three basic principles: Do not judge, see Christ in each person, and serve our guests.
Sister Patricia Baber, RSM
Diocese of Savannah, Georgia
Through Mercy Sister Pat Baber’s dedication, guidance, infectious positive spirit and great concern for others, the lives of many in a poor neighborhood of Savannah and beyond have been changed. Through St. Joseph’s/Candler, the local Catholic hospital, Sister Baber is directing a multifaceted community outreach center as well as two free medical clinics. At the community center, located in Cuyler-Brownsville, a struggling African-American neighborhood where 40 percent of residents live below the poverty level, she takes a holistic approach to health and strives to address many of the challenges rooted in the injustices of poverty—from unemployment and illiteracy to lack of health care, substandard housing, addiction and crime. And at the two medical clinics, she organizes a volunteer medical staff that provides free primary, non-emergent care to those without health insurance. “It’s the call of the Gospel to love one another, but particularly to look out for those who have less, those who are poor,” said Sister Baber. “We help each other get to heaven.”
Diocese of Shreveport, Louisiana
Over the past three years, L’Anne Sciba has been rallying Catholic pro-life people in the Shreveport area around the common vision of embracing and supporting young single, pregnant women, helping them not only through difficult life decisions but providing a valuable support network for them. Since she founded Mary’s House in 2015, this Catholic pregnancy care center has cared for more than 400 women seeking help with unwanted pregnancy issues. Mary’s House offers any pregnant woman alternatives to abortion, early free access to medical care as well as emotional and spiritual encouragement and referrals to available community resources. Twice a year, Sciba partners with the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans in Shreveport for holding innovative 12-week support programs called Embrace Grace. Embrace Grace is designed to equip a parish to love single and pregnant young women and their families and provide crucial spiritual, emotional and physical support. Both at Mary’s House and in Embrace Grace, Sciba said, “Wise women step out of their comfort zones to listen to young women, their heartaches and fears. It is these wise women’s faith and their sharing of God’s love that transforms young women’s lives—love that can be felt.”
Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri
Thanks to Maura Taylor’s tireless efforts to serve those in need, the social ministry of the Catholic Church has been spreading throughout southern Missouri. The diocese’s population is only 5 percent Catholic, and for many clients of Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri (CCSOMO), which Taylor leads as its executive director, its service is their first and only experience of anything Catholic. The diocese did not have a Catholic Charities agency until 2009, and it has been under Taylor’s leadership that it has grown into the multi-faceted social service organization that now helps almost 6,000 people annually. Taylor was hired as executive director shortly after a catastrophic tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011, and for the next many months she traveled 150 miles every day and worked 12-hour days to build disaster response, case management and home rebuilding teams on site. In addition to her administrative duties, she worked alongside her staff helping to meet the needs of the survivors. Since then, Taylor has been bringing CCSOMO to the most impoverished areas of the diocese, filling different gaps in services in different regions. Under Taylor’s leadership, CCSOMO adopted a tagline that aptly summarizes its mission: “Reaching Out, Providing Hope and Changing Lives.”
Sister Katherine Caldwell, TOR
Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio
Sister Katherine Caldwell is one of seven sisters who 30 years ago founded the Franciscan Sisters, Third Order Regular, of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother, a contemplative order committed to works of mercy and evangelization. She served as the community’s superior for 11 years and has dedicated her life to serving the poor. She has worked in an emergency shelter for abused women, served as a spiritual director, provided counseling to those in need and is now establishing a new trauma counseling center in downtown Steubenville. The Sacred Heart Center of Hope has been a dream of hers for decades, and has now begun to become a reality. Its mission is to “break the cycle of trauma one heart at a time.” She is engaging Catholics from four local parishes in forming a community of volunteer service and prayer around the new center. “My faith life has enabled me to see the suffering Christ in those I counsel,” she said, “and to be the suffering Christ through my compassionate presence. I am learning that God must be the one to guide and that He is the one who heals.”
Father Steven Paliwoda
St. Josaphat Eparchy
As pastor of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Lorain, Ohio, Father Steven Paliwoda has been shepherding a venerable immigrant parish with a landmark church. Founded in 1913 by the first wave of Ukrainian immigrants, today’s parish has struggled through difficult times following the 2005 closing of the local Ford Motor Company plant. Under his leadership, the congregation continues to honor its Ukrainian Catholic ancestry while also welcoming and embracing people from many different backgrounds. Although small, the parish is a bedrock in the community. In addition to his work in the parish, Canon Paliwoda assists veterans groups and a local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter. As chancellor and financial officer for the Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma, Ohio, he has helped stretch its very limited resources to make ends meet during extremely difficult financial circumstances. Despite his many achievements, he is down-to-earth and very humble.
Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn
As director of the eparchy’s Office for Family and Sanctity of Life, Marise Frangie works with parishes to educate people in key areas related to the sanctity of life, while also organizing the eparchy’s public witness for life, including at the annual March for Life. Bishop Gregory Mansour says he appreciates the “great influence she has on people seeking the Lord” and that “she goes beyond the call of duty to build a culture of life in our diocese.” She advocates for Natural Family Planning and helps couples struggling with infertility, while also leading marriage preparation, spiritual direction and prayer groups. “My faith drives what I do,” said Frangie, “because I believe that so many people are wounded and miserable since they have not met Jesus face to face and not realized how much He loves them personally. The pro-life movement helps us all to be more faithful to Christ.”
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.”
Brother David Buer, OFM
Diocese of Tucson, Arizona
Franciscan Brother David Buer began working with homeless people 40 years ago in Chicago. In 2008, a few years after moving to Tucson, he founded Poverello House, a house of hospitality named after St. Francis of Assisi, who was called ”Il Poverello” (the little poor man). Brother Buer invites homeless men to come in off the street and spend one day each week at the Poverello House to “rest up, eat up and wash up” in a home-like environment. Steeped in the Franciscan tradition, this ministry is designed to be a welcoming place where all men are treated equally and with dignity. “The Poverello House not only enables us to clean our clothes and bodies once a week,” said Paul Geen, one of the homeless guests, “but allows us to feel somewhat normal for a day.” Brother Buer has also founded a cooling center for the homeless, a soup patrol and a winter shelter, and he has been working with humanitarian aid organizations serving migrants at the border. “Providing loving hospitality to those cast out of regular societal structures respects their dignity,” he said. “The outcast is our neighbor, our brother, our sister.”
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 Maria 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.”
Diocese of Tyler, Texas
As director of family life for the St. Philip Institute, Deanna Johnston has been working to enrich and grow marriage preparation and formation for engaged couples in the Diocese of Tyler. The institute’s new program called “Three to Get Married” is designed as a comprehensive marriage prep program to help couples embrace their God-given vocations as husband and wife. Its goal is to form strong, Catholic marriages that are rooted in the faith and the sacraments. Johnston has developed the curriculum and has trained sponsor couples to administer the program within their parishes. In addition, she is also working on implementing “Witness to Love,” a program for parishes that connects engaged couples with married couples who serve as their sponsors and sources of support. “Working in marriage and family ministry is working in mission territory,” said Johnston, “because we have such a unique and wonderful opportunity to help marriages begin with Christ at the center, and encourage them to keep Christ at the forefront of their married lives through every season and change that occurs within their family.”
Diocese of Yakima, Washington
As a lead volunteer for PREPARES, a statewide Catholic pregnancy and parenting support initiative, Sandra Kahle has been supporting mothers who may be lonely, isolated, poor or overwhelmed. She has been active with this innovative prolife ministry from the beginning. As a family companion, she accompanies women from pregnancy through the child’s fifth birthday, building a relationship with the mother that will support her in her work of raising her family. Kahle can relate because she herself was once “the unwed mom, confused and alone. I was the mom of three small children abandoned by divorce.” She also leads the committee of PREPARES volunteers at her parish, Holy Family in Yakima. She collects and organizes donations in her garage and helps other parishes get started in the ministry. Yakima’s Bishop Joseph Tyson said, “We want to make sure that no child—born or unborn—is ever abandoned or alone. We want to make sure that every mother—whether she is in a small rural town or large city—has caring people around her.” And Kahle said, “It is a privilege to walk the journey with the families, as they confront and overcome difficulties.”