by Steven Childs
Whether through advocacy for the disabled, service on the parish council, or leading an Hispanic youth group, longtime service and energetic parishioner engagement in church affairs keep the church and its mission vital.
Recognizing that involvement, members of Brooklyn’s 48 parishes gathered at The Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Downtown Brooklyn last Friday, April 27, to honor their “Parishioners of Distinction.”
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio presided at the ceremony at which he presented 102 medals to 109 recipients, nominated by their pastors, to acknowledge their years of dedication.
“[The medal is] something to remind you of the goodness of your service and appreciation of your pastors and the diocese as a whole,” the bishop told the nominees before presenting the medals to each recipient or group of recipients individually. Display the medal, he instructed them.
Following a series of antiphons and prayers, the bishop expounded on the significance of the medal – designed by a Brooklyn priest and minted in Milan for the Diocese’s sesquicentennial in 2003 – that he was about to present.
On one side, appears an image of the Holy Spirit and 12 stars, which represent the 12 tribes of Israel at the feet of Mary from the Book of Revelation, the Bishop explained. The Latin phrase “Ecce Ancilla Domini” (“Her is God’s Maid”) – the response spoken by Mary to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation – surround that image, which prompted the Bishop to note the similarities between Mary’s and the honoree’s willingness to serve God.
“This is exactly why you are being honored: because you have served, because you have done God’s will,” the bishop told the medal recipients.
On the medal’s obverse side, the Latin words “Verbum Caro Factum Est” (“the Word was made flesh”) ring a map of the diocese with 225 dots on it, one for each of the parishes in the diocese in 2003.
“When we accept God’s will, when we do God’s will, then we make the word flesh,” Bishop DiMarzio said. Each of the many different forms of service acknowledged at the ceremony, he explained, make Christ come alive.
“We don’t think we do anything special,” said Peter Siggia, who received a medal jointly with his wife, Nina, for their service to St. Jude in Canarsie. “I never thought this was going to happen.”
But Msgr. John Delendrick, who nominated the couple noted, “They’re part of everything.”
Parishioners of St. Jude for the last 12 years, the Siggias serve as Eucharistic ministers, work on the parish council, and minister to the sick and homebound. Peter runs a small gift shop in the church and serves on the finance council while Nina teaches RCIA classes and designs and creates posters for church events, which she counts as a remarkable blessing since she suffers from macular degeneration, an eye condition that she expected to limit her vision severely. The couple also runs an advocacy program to make the parish aware of the needs of the disabled.
Many of the honorees, though no more dedicated than the Siggias, have been part of their parishes for much longer.
Angela Dominguez-Newall received a medal for her leadership and 32 years of service to Holy Cross in Flatbush. One of Holy Cross’s three nominees, Dominguez-Newall lectors, serves on the parish council and the school board, is a Eucharistic minister and sometime catechist, and runs the church’s Hispanic youth group. She earned the medal, said Msgr. Joseph Malagrecca, for her “tireless service.”
And from St. Michael’s in Sunset Park, Gladys Duran and Eleanor Ratigan received medals for their many years of dependable service and sacrifice.
“Whenever we need something, we know we can call on them,” said their pastor, Father Kevin Sweeney.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Duran has attended St. Michael’s since she immigrated to the United States 30 years ago. For the past 14 years, she has worked for the parish in a host of capacities: she teaches RCIA, sells religious articles on weekends to raise money for St. Michael’s, teaches a class in Spanish for parents with children about to be baptized to help them understand the responsibilities of Catholic mothers and father, and sings in the choir. Ratigan, a parishioner for 60 years, serves as president of the senior citizens committee, counts the weekly collections, and distributes bread and cake to the needy after Mass on Saturdays and Sundays.
At a reception afterwards, the honorees gathered in the pavilion across the street from the Cathedral Basilica with their pastors, families, friends, and Bishop DiMarzio to enjoy refreshments.
The ceremony continued the diocese’s recognition of lay leadership, as Bishop DiMarzio presented medals to Queens’s “Parishioners of Distinction” a week earlier at St. Nicholas of Tolentine in Jamaica.