The Felician Sisters of Kingstree, SC were named the 2012 Lumen Christi recipients by Catholic Extension, marking the 35th time that this special honor has been bestowed.

The judges participating in the nomination process have truly chosen well this year!

The Felician Sisters in Kingstree, South Carolina

This is the highest national honor Catholic Extension offers to extraordinary people who heroically and often inconspicuously serve the Church in the U.S.

The history of this award is quite fascinating:

  • When Lumen Christi was first established in 1978, the presumptive future saint, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, helped select the first honoree less than a year before he passed away.
  • 60% of the honorees have been women, including the first honoree, a lay catechist named “Flo,” who taught the faith to rural, poor communities, despite threats from the KKK.
  • 40% of the honorees have been women religious, which is no surprise given how so many Catholics owe our formation and education to the tireless work of the sisters.

Catholic Extension looks forward to a splendid celebration on September 12 in Kingstree, SC. We will gather with the three sisters, the Bishop of Charleston, and the delighted community of Kingstree, which has been cheering on the sisters all the way through the 8-month-long nomination process. You can follow us on twitter for live updates of the event. I had the great fortune of meeting these sisters several months ago (click here for blog), and here is what I know about them:

  • The sisters have been at work in this community for 20 years, giving many eager souls knowledge of the Catholic faith through their parish religious education ministry; feeding countless empty stomachs through their weekly meals; educating innumerable young minds through their after-school tutoring program, and clothing thousands of backs through their community thrift shop.
  • The Felician sisters chose to set up their ministry in Kingstree twenty years ago, precisely because of the challenges this community faces. They deliberately went to one of the most violent, drug-trafficked streets in Kingstree, in one of the most economically challenged parts of town, in one of the statistically poorest counties of South Carolina.
  • In twenty years, the sisters have accomplished much.

The sisters feed stomachs, hearts, and minds

But, what is so impressive about them is not what they have accomplished, it’s how they have accomplished it.

The sisters listen, they don’t impose. When they first arrived in Kingstree, they did not immediately decide what services to provide. Instead, they let the community decide for them. It all started one day, when a little girl in a backpack showed up at their house. They realized this girl had nowhere to go after school, and that there were many others like her. Out of that experience the sisters developed their tutoring program which continues today.

Joy is the hallmark of their ministry

The sisters unite diverse people in a common purpose. The sisters make no apologies for being Catholic in an area where Catholics are a tiny minority. Nevertheless, they turned to the larger Christian community for volunteers and support. Today, scores of churches from varying denominations are partnering with the sisters to deliver meals, clothing, and after-school education.

The sisters have joy. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” After spending twenty years in a notoriously troubled place, it would be easy to become somber or cynical. But, spend five minutes with these sisters and you’ll realize that they crack a lot of jokes, they unabashedly embrace their neighbors, and they smile their way through every day.

Joy is contagious

Their variety of joy can only come from divine origin. And, the best thing about this kind of joy is that it is highly contagious and very transformative, so much so, that community members happily reported to me that there is a drop in shootings and drug-related incidents.

Through their faithful and passionate service to the Church and to Kingstree, these Felician sisters have not only transformed a parish and a town, they have given us a blueprint for how to pull it off so well. This is why we are so thrilled that they are our 2012 Lumen Christi recipients! It is truly a fitting honor.

The story of Kingstree reminds us that one small Church can have a big impact

Join me in posting a congratulatory remark to the sisters on our Facebook page.

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