HARTFORD – “I’m going to sleep with it…sleep with it and be happy with it,” said an overjoyed John David, a member of St. Luke Parish, before receiving his St. Joseph Medal of Appreciation from Archbishop Leonard P. Blair at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph on March 16. See full list of winners here.
“It’s the luckiest and best thing I’ve ever gotten in my life,” gushed Mr. David, who has taken up the Sunday Mass collection for the past two decades and served as an usher. “It’ll never happen again.”
Many of the 207 recipients of this year’s St. Joseph Medal of Appreciation, which recognizes them for their service and commitment to their church, were visibly moved by the ceremony.
“It’s a great blessing and a great gift,” said Martha Smith, of St. Mary Parish in Branford, where she serves as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults team leader and coordinates a visitors’ ministry. “I think each of us shares it with everyone from our parish.”
Sacristans, religious education teachers, food pantry helpers, readers, gardeners and, of course, committee members and event planners were among the many duties represented by the medal recipients, who volunteer simply because they love their church.
“I do it because I enjoy being involved in all the aspects of the parish,” said Robert Goossens, a member of St. Mary Parish in New Haven, where he serves on the parish council, sits on various parish committees, coordinates events, assists “where I can to support the church,” and supports the Knights of Columbus council as past state deputy for the fraternal organization.
For James and Elizabeth Mancini of St. George Parish in Guilford, it’s personal. “I’ve been there all my 53 years … baptized, became an altar server, helped with the youth programs, met my wife and got married there, and now we’re raising our two children,” Mr. Mancini said.
Today, the couple’s combined talents have them serving as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, working on the social events committee, helping to start a men’s group, promoting the women’s retreat and supporting marriage encounters.
“It’s kind of humbling,” said Mr. Mancini about the occasion. “It’s like you’re receiving it for everyone who volunteers at St. George. It’s an honor knowing that we’re representing them. It’s the church that taught us to give back…to get involved,” he said. Plus, added his wife, “It’s our home.”
Archbishop Blair thanked and congratulated recipients, noting that the day was the three-month anniversary of his installation. “You realize what that means,” he said. “The 90-day warranty expired. There is no sending me back to the factory. What you got you got,” he told the delighted congregation.
“As a priest and bishop, my experience is that the people who are most worthy of being publicly honored are also the humblest in accepting the honor,” he said. “What is important to them is the service that is being recognized.”
Archbishop Blair thanked all of the recipients for their presence, enabling the archdiocese to “lift you up so that your light can shine for the good of the church and to inspire others to service as well,” he said.
“Congratulations to all our recipients and to all who use their gifts generously in fulfilling our common goal to be Christ’s witnesses in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Since the archdiocese initiated the award for volunteers in 2002, more than 3,000 distinguished men and women have been recognized for their outstanding service to parishes.
Also among those being recognized were Robert and Donna Milslagle of St. Mary Parish in Meriden, who help with fund-raisers and cleaning the church.
“I’m deeply honored,” said Mrs. Milslagle. “There are so many deserving people who are here, and I’m just honored to receive this award.”
She said that they had moved into the parish from Pennsylvania, and that when whey first walked into St. Mary Church, they said, “This is home.” Apparently so; she said of St. Mary’s, “We’ve been there 51 years. Our children went to school at St. Mary’s and our grandchild went there. I just love it,” she said.
Joseph Bajek, who has belonged to St. Mary Parish in Newington for about four decades, noted, “I was the first sexton of the church, president of the men’s club for about 10 or 15 years, serve as eucharistic minister and I open up the chapel for morning Mass.”
“I’m excited about receiving the award,” he said. “God has been good to me all these years. I go to Mass every day. So now I’m serving God.”
Honorees Robert and Julie Mullen serve their parish, the Cathedral of St. Joseph. “I’m in charge of flowers for the cathedral and my husband is the photographer,” she said.
“We were overwhelmed,” said Mr. Mullen, who also contributes photos to The Catholic Transcript. “We weren’t expecting it. Both of us were humbled. There are people sitting in the pews next to us every Sunday who deserve the same thing.”