by Stephan Childs
Whether piloting a program to provide the needy with care, serving as an ethnic community’s parish liaison, or helping facilitate a parish merger, service to the church assumes many forms.
Recognizing that service (not to mention many other types), members of each one of Queens’ 47 parishes attended St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Jamaica last Friday to honor their “Parishioners of Distinction.”
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio presided at the ceremony at which he presented 103 medals to 125 recipients, nominated by their pastors, to acknowledge their leadership and sacrifice.
“You have said in all of your parishes that you are willing to serve,” the bishop said in his homily before distributing the medals individually. “You make church come alive, make church real, give church substance.”
After a ceremony that included hymns and prayer, Bishop DiMarzio explained the significance of the medal – designed by a Brooklyn priest for the Diocese’s sesquicentennial in 2003 – he was about to present and compared the honorees’ willingness to serve their parishes to Mary’s words, “Here is God’s Maid,” to the angel Gabriel during the Annunciation. On one side of the medal, those words appear in Latin (“Ecce Ancilla Domini”) around an image of the Holy Spirit and 12 stars, which symbolize Mary as the Queen of the 12 tribes of Israel, explained the bishop. On the reverse side, he told those in attendance, surrounded by the Latin phrase “Verbum Caro Factum Est” (“And the Word was made flesh”), is a map of Brooklyn and Queens with a dot for the location of each parish.
“I’m very grateful,” said Helen Donnelly, who with Marianne Geraghty, received a medal for her service to St. Mel’s in Flushing. “It was always a pleasure to work at St. Mel’s.”
A parishioner of that church since 1962, Donnelly ran a homemaker program for 30 years that, in conjunction with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, placed caregivers with the elderly and the handicapped and provided financial relief for those in need. Until five years ago, 70 people worked under her direction.
Like Donnelly, Vanes Vieux, Anna Cristian and Thomas A. Heintz received medals for their many years of leadership and service to Ss. Joachim and Anne in Queens Village, a multi-cultural parish of 2,000 with a large Haitian contingent. Hientz, a lifelong parishioner, has attended Ss. Joachim and Anne for more than 70 years.
Each of the three has given more than 15 years of service to the church.
Father Robert Robinson, pastor, nominated Vieux, Cristian, and Hientz, all trustees of the church, not only for their active roles in parish affairs, but also because they serve as ambassadors between Ss. Joachim and Anne and Queens Village’s Haitian, Spanish, and white communities, respectively, said Cristian.
From sweeping floors to making administrative decisions “we do everything at the church from bottom to top,” said Vieux, who received the same award for his service in 2003.
But not all the medals went to recipients with such a long history of service – or even to a particular individual. Father William G. Smith, pastor of Our Lady of Light in St. Alban’s, a merged parish that contains two churches – St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Pascal Baylon – nominated his entire 12-person parish leadership council for its work in bringing the two churches together.
“It worked because of strong lay leadership,” said Father Smith of the merger.
Since the two churches were consolidated into one parish three years ago, the council has worked to coordinate activities, such as meeting times for rosary prayer groups. Combining St. Catherine’s and St. Pascal’s strengths while eliminating their weaknesses was the most important task in unifying the churches, said Stephen Callender, a member of the council. Celebrating traditional parish functions like the feast day of St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Pascal’s “Spirit Day” jointly as well as forming ministry and planning committees made the transition a smooth one, he explained.
At a reception afterwards, the honorees gathered in St. Nicholas’ basement with their pastors, families, and friends to enjoy refreshments.
Continuing the diocese’s recognition of lay leadership and service, Bishop DiMarzio will present medals to Brooklyn parishioners on Friday, April 27 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James.