Cantius Joshua of St. Augustine Parish in Hartford displays the St. Joseph Medal of Appreciation that he received during a ceremony held March 20 in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford. Archbishop Henry J. Mansell handed out 206 medals to volunteers in recognition of their outstanding service to the 162 parishes to which they belong. A total of 1,615 distinguished men and women have received the award since it was initiated in 2002. Story, photo gallery to come. See additional photos in the Photo Gallery. (Photo by Jack Sheedy)
HARTFORD – Ever since then-Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin launched the St. Joseph Medal of Appreciation ceremony in May 2002, a total of 1,615 distinguished men and women from all corners of the Archdiocese of Hartford have been recognized for outstanding service to their parishes.
This year, Archbishop Henry J. Mansell handed out 206 medals to volunteers from 162 parishes during a ceremony March 20 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. The number of recipients matched last year’s total for the highest in the 10 award ceremonies since Archbishop Cronin initiated the program as a means of giving back to the laity.
"It is quite an honor," said David Peters, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and finance committee member at St. Joseph Parish in Poquonock. "My heavens, we never expected to be honored like this. It’s wonderful. It really is." Click here for full list of recipients.
His wife, Mary Lou Peters, was equally surprised when the letter came from their pastor, Father Robert Vargo. Mrs. Peters is a lector, extraordinary minister and member of the funeral ministry. She is also assistant coordinator for the archdiocesan Pro-Life Ministry.
Over the years, surprise at being selected for the honor has been a common reaction, and this year was no exception. Carol Aloi, of St. Rita Parish in Hamden, was chosen by her pastor, Father Philip J. Sharkey, for outstanding contributions of time and talent to her parish community.
"I was very surprised when I got the letter in the mail," she said. "It was a snowy, rainy morning, and I didn’t expect to get anything that special in the mail. When I went into the rectory to thank Father Sharkey, he said, ‘Don’t thank me; thank yourself.’"
Mrs. Aloi has been a lector for more than 30 years and is involved with the parish council, school board and special collections of school supplies for St. Francis/St. Rose of Lima School in New Haven. She also coordinates the Stations of the Cross.
"I’ve done a few things over the years," she said.
Archbishop Henry J. Mansell also took note of the humility that seems to be a common attribute of the recipients. He said that one volunteer who spent hours donating free services to the parish was asked by a fellow parishioner, "Why do you do so much?" The man answered, "It’s my parish. Why shouldn’t I?"
Most volunteers do their work quietly, the Archbishop said. "Most of the people don’t know, but your priests know what you do," he said. "When one tree falls, it’s a great noise, but no one hears the forest grow."
He praised the recipients for bringing food to the sick and homebound; for volunteering at schools; and for working in soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters. "This is a great Church, and you make it so," he said. It is the work of volunteers that help make the Catholic Church in Connecticut the largest provider of social services after government, he said.
"You are the glue, the cement that keeps us together," he said. "The services you provide are not merely social services, but services of the spirit, services of religion, services of being a Catholic."
He thanked them for being cheerful in their work as well. "You always have a smile on your faces. You engage people. You attract people by your hard work but also by your spirit, the spirit of being a true Catholic."
The award is traditionally given on or near the Feast of Saint Joseph, who, the Archbishop noted, is not only the patron of the Archdiocese but of the Universal Church. "He is the guardian, the protector, the standard-bearer for the Church. We know he is responsible, reliable, trustworthy, dependable. Those are attributes that apply to yourselves."
And still, the recipients are surprised.
"I didn’t think I’d done that much to deserve it," said Patricia Mooney of St. Mary Parish in Branford. Her pastor, Father Christopher M. Ford, chose her and her husband, John, for the award. "You’re just doing what you’re doing, and it doesn’t seem like it’s more than what anybody else is doing," she said.
David Crotta Jr., of St. Mary Parish in New Haven echoed the theme: "Quite honestly, I was a little surprised. I didn’t really think I was worthy of it," he said.
But his pastor, Dominican Father Joseph P. Allen, must have thought otherwise. Mr. Crotta is a trustee of the parish and serves on the finance council. He’s been active in the parish for more than a dozen years.
"I was surprised," said Elizabeth Waterman, as if on cue. She counted the money for the council at St. Bernard Parish in Tariffville, for 20 years, and was also an extraordinary minister. "I’m very active in the Ladies Guild," she added. She was chosen by Father Edward Tissera Warnakulasuriya, parish administrator.
Lisa Valentine has been at Immaculate Conception Parish in New Hartford, where Father Timothy O’Brien is pastor, for about 20 years.
"When Father Tim told me, I was at a loss for words. I felt so humbled," she said. "I couldn’t even believe that I’d get such an award. Even now, it’s still a shock."
Mrs. Valentine was president of the Ladies Guild for two years and is in charge of providing and arranging the flowers for the altar. "I just help where help’s needed," she said. "I just make sure everything’s shipshape and just help other people who need the help."
As Archbishop Mansell said in his homily, "Most of you don’t say much at all. You just do the work. It’s the work of the heart."