By Amanda Woods and Melissa Enaje
Hundreds of faithful congregants have gone above and beyond to serve their home parishes – so the Diocese of Brooklyn gave back in a ceremony honoring each of them on Sunday.
About 450 “Distinguished Parishioners” were recognized – some for their dedication to parish ministry, and others for their generous financial contributions – in an evening prayer service celebrated by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights.
All of the honorees gave of their “time, talent and treasure,” Bishop DiMarzio explained, before awarding a custom-designed medal to each of them.
“We are firm in our faith, knowing that what we do isn’t just for some institution, which is the Church,” the bishop said. “It is for Christ Himself who is the risen Lord, who is present among us as we celebrate the sacraments that He left us as an everlasting memorial of his presence among us.”
“So as people of faith, we thank you so much for what you do for the Church, as we give you this small token of our honor,” he continued. “Take it in good health and use it as a remembrance of what you’ve done and the thankfulness the diocese has to you.”
On one side of the medal is the Brooklyn Bridge, as well as the World’s Fair unisphere, which remains at Flushing Meadows–Corona Park– symbols of both boroughs covered by the diocese. On the other side is an image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness both of the diocese and of the United States.
“Mary knows as a mother the generosity of her children, so we put you under Mary’s intercession and protection,” Bishop DiMarzio told the awardees.
News of the recognition came as a surprise for many dedicated parishioners.
Norma Felix, who attends both St. Theresa of Avila in Crown Heights and St. Augustine in Park Slope, is one of them. She has served as a lector, Eucharistic minister and a choir member – as well as visited elderly parishioners and taken part in some youth ministry work.
“For me it’s huge because that’s something I never expect to get,” she shared. “It was an honor for me. I mean, it was a blessing. It means so much to me.”
Stephen Langowski, of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills, shared similar sentiments.
“It was unexpected,” said Langowski, who is on the parish council, and serves as one of the coordinators of the ARISE renewal and evangelization program at the parish. “It was much appreciated, but completely unexpected. It’s a wonderful feeling to have this show of appreciation.”
His wife Lorna Langowski, who was also honored, serves as the chair of the finance committee, and this past Christmas Eve also directed the parish’s Nativity play.
For Aura Casprowitz, who has attended Holy Cross in Flatbush since 1974 – and since then has served as a Eucharistic minister, an usher and a member of the charismatic prayer group, among other ministry work – the recognition brought her comfort in a time of loss.
“When Msgr. [Joseph] Malagreca said, ‘I picked your name, I select you for this award,’ it was a surprise for me, and for me it means so much. Because 7 months [ago], I lost my husband, and for me this is the most beautiful gift I have from God.”
Honoree Zoraida Castillo, of St. Peter and St. Paul in Williamsburg, gives of her time as a Eucharistic minister, altar server and is in charge of cleaning various items in preparation for Mass. She said in Spanish, translated by her grandson Rinaldys Castillo, that her entire ministry has been nothing but a blessing.
“There is not one [favorite] moment, but for her it’s when she gets to greet the community,” Rinaldys said. “She gets to talk with them laugh with them….Also, her favorite moment is being able to feel the presence of Jesus Christ, and that has no comparison.”
For Geri Anne O’Bierne, who serves as a parish trustee and coordinates the youth and family ministry, as well as the altar servers and the Eucharistic ministers at St. Saviour in Park Slope, it’s about far more than the recognition.
“You don’t do it for the reward,” said O’Bierne, who comes from a long family line of parish volunteers. “You do it for the greater glory of God, you do it for the parishioners and the children in the parish. This honor is just so humbling….and there were people who got the award today that I’ve known for their work in the diocese in the other parishes. To be put into the same level with them, it’s just remarkable, and I’m very grateful for the acknowledgement.”
One well-known honoree was former State Sen. Marty Golden, who represented several south Brooklyn neighborhoods, and attends St. Anselm in Bay Ridge.
“I thank the bishop for his acknowledgment,” Golden said. “This is truly a great honor. It goes not only to the spirituality, the actual award itself, but the presence of so many good people that do so much for the community.”
Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, the diocesan vicar for development, expressed his gratitude for each of the parishioners’ contributions and dedication.
“The greatest way you can honor someone is to say thank you to them,” he said. “And as the vicar for development, I do all the fundraising for the diocese. It’s nice to recognize our donors for what they do. You can never say thank you enough.”
And auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez called the ceremony “a great celebration of the diocese.”
“It’s wonderful to be reminded of the fact that the lifeblood of our diocesan church are our good, generous and committed people, faith-filled,” he said. “What a beautiful time to do this celebration than during the Easter season and to continue to rejoice in the wonders of God’s love that are manifested in His people.”
(Photos: Melissa Enaje)
Standing Ovation in Jamaica
The second ceremony May 5 was cel- ebrated at St. Nicholas of Tolentine, Jamaica.
Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros read the awardees names out loud on the podium as the honorees approached the aisle to shake Bishop DiMarzio’s hand.
Sitting in the front row of the Queens parish was Margaret Gavan from Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Astoria. She was involved with her parish for more than 50 years. She said that even though her family from the Carolinas weren’t able to attend, they were happy for her.
“I dedicated my life to my church and the community and to the children and working with all the priests and all the parishioners in my church,” Gavan said. “I love doing it. I love doing parish work.”
After honoree names were read, more than half of the church stood up, including invited guests and clergy, to give a standing ovation to those who selflessly shared their love for Christ and building His Church.