By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor
On a sunny and crisp autumn Sunday, a standing room only crowd gathered at the Cathedral of the Assumption to witness the formal presentation of honors from Pope Francis to nine servants of the Archdiocese of Louisville.
The Nov. 24 ceremony not only featured a full Cathedral of the Assumption, but among the thousand or so people gathered for the event, it was difficult to find a face that wasn’t smiling.
Take Sister of Mercy Mary Prisca Pfeffer, for instance. She, along with her close friend Norma Merrick, received the highest honor given by the pope to members of the church.
“It’s a wonderful day but there are so many people who deserve such recognition,” said Sister Pfeffer, now 97. Prior to the start of services, she and her friend Merrick were continually surrounded by friends and well-wishers.
Often uncomfortable as the center of attention, Merrick joked with a reporter who asked to take a picture — “It’s okay, but only because it’s you,” she said with a chuckle before pausing for a snapshot or two.
“We’re here today to honor nine beautiful people, dedicated servants of the Lord,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, “and apparently you found out about it because the church is full.”
On the cusp of a national day of thanksgiving, the archbishop said, “this is a day of thanksgiving for the entire Archdiocese of Louisville; a day to say ‘thank you’ to our Holy Father Pope Francis for honoring these nine people of the archdiocese.”
The archbishop — the newly-elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — had a message for everyone in attendance, not just those being honored.
“From the time of our baptism, we are called to be faithful witnesses for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he said. “So today we can all thank God for the gift of Jesus Christ, a gift that made it possible for you and I to be channels of that witness for him, for Jesus Christ.
“We need to say to others that our only king is not power or material things,” he added. “Our only king is Jesus Christ.
The archbishop noted that in “Evangelization in the Modern World,” Pope Paul VI said he wanted the followers of Jesus Christ to be joyful in announcing the Gospel of the Lord to the rest of the world.
And to a Cathedral filled with smiling faces gathered to celebrate the papal honors, the archbishop reminded everyone of the need to be specific when bringing the message and joy of Christ to others. The faithful need to remember, he said, “that people pay attention and believe those who practice what they preach.”
He also noted that for everyone the pope has honored “there are countless people behind the scenes” who help bring the work of the archdiocese to life and who help bring the word of God to others.
He also noted that the famed writer C. S. Lewis once speculated on how heaven would feel when he was received there: “Lewis said ‘I believe
I’ll have that same joy that I feel when I see someone else being honored, only I’ll feel it all the time.’ ”
Sunday’s ceremony was a chance, the archbishop said, to share in the joy of seeing our colleagues honored, something that gave “all of us a little taste of heaven.”
Sister Mary Prisca Pfeffer and vice-chancellor of the archdiocese Norma Merrick both received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross. The other seven honored on Nov. 24 received the Benemerenti Medal. They were:
- Dr. Salem George Sr., a member of St. Augustine Church in Lebanon, Ky.
- Dr. William J. Godfrey, a member of St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky.
- Richard A. Lechleiter, a member of Holy Spirit Church.
- Former U.S. Congressman Romano L. Mazzoli, a member of Our Mother of Sorrows Church.
- Archdiocesan chancellor and chief administrative officer Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, a member of Holy Trinity Church.
- M. Annette Mandley-Turner, executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Multicultural Ministry and a member of St. Martin de Porres and St. Augustine churches.
- Clara Zoeller, a member of St. Lawrence Church.