An honor from the Vatican: Pope Francis bestows Benemerenti Medals for exceptional service on 15 diocesan laypersons

North Texas Catholic
(Feb 13, 2024) Local

Benemerenti Medal recipients and Bishop Michael Olson pose for a photo during a reception and dinner on February 10, 2024, at St. Patrick Cathedral. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

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FORT WORTH — On behalf of Pope Francis, Bishop Michael Olson bestowed the Benemerenti Medal on 15 Catholic faithful who have provided exceptional service to the Diocese of Fort Worth at a Mass on Feb. 10 at St. Patrick Cathedral.

Bishop Olson stated the honorees “have witnessed and served as His disciples, bringing about the good news of Christ through their lives and service to others, because of the grace of their baptism.”

The honorees represent many avenues of service — in education, health care, government, law, caring for the poor, the unborn, and their parents — and Bishop Olson added, “Many people throughout the Diocese of Fort Worth and beyond would qualify for this, but those who are honored today are representative, in a sense, of so many others who are faithful as well to their vocation as members of the laity to spread the good news.”

The 15 honorees are:

Michael Brown of Wichita Falls. A Knight of Columbus for over 40 years, he initiated and oversaw the annual Fr. Donlon Vocations Dinner, which has raised more than $3.5 million to help fund the formation of priests. The medal for Brown, who died July 21, 2023, has been given posthumously to his family.

Joyce Brown Thomas of Fort Worth. At Our Mother of Mercy Parish, she has served as a sacristan, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, reader, and officer of the St. Anne’s Altar Society. She is a core member of the diocesan Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Memorial Mass and has provided local, state, and national leadership within the National Conference of Catholic Women.

John Crumley of Fort Worth. An attorney, he has assisted the bishop in developing new policies regarding safe environment for minors, just employment practices, and new norms and practices for ethical conduct of the clergy and lay employees. The parishioner at St. Patrick Cathedral has served as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and a reader, and he is also active with the Knights of Columbus, the Serra Club, and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Benemerenti Medal recipient Tessy Ross is congratulated by Bishop Michael Olson during Mass on February 10, 2024, at St. Patrick Cathedral. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Nancy Eder of Fort Worth. For more than 25 years, this nurse has committed to ongoing medical care for priests and seminarians and helped create and implement COVID-19 protocols throughout the diocese. A Holy Family parishioner, she served as the school nurse consultant for the diocese for more than two decades.

Jim Goldsworthy of Gainesville. He was honored for years of generous stewardship of St. Mary Parish and School on leadership councils, as basketball coach, and as a fundraiser. He served the city of Gainesville for 16 years as vice mayor and mayor, providing courageous leadership in replacing a monument to the Confederacy with one dedicated to civic unity and patriotism.

LaDorne Hart of Keller. A parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, she provided unwavering support to her husband, Monsignor E. James Hart, through his conversion and appointment as diocesan chancellor and moderator of the curia. By facilitating his work as a priest and leader, her joyful sacrifices allowed his ministry to bear an abundance of fruit in the life of the Church within the diocese.

Deacon James Novak of Seymour. Since his ordination in 1995, he has served as a permanent deacon at Seymour’s Sacred Heart Parish and St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Megargel. Responsibilities include formation of diocesan seminarians, enculturation of several foreign priests, and collaboration with other local Protestant communities in the Seymour area to provide for the physical and spiritual needs of indigent and itinerant poor.

Rilda Novak of Seymour. At Sacred Heart Parish, she has served in ministry for the bereaved, mentored young couples preparing for the sacrament of matrimony, prepared and repaired vestments, and served as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. A nurse, she served on the Board of Directors for the local hospital for more than 20 years.

Pat Pelletier of Arlington. The St. Patrick parishioner, in addition to her committed life as a wife of a disabled veteran and mother of five children, has dedicated herself to pro-life ministry. She and her late husband founded a crisis pregnancy center in 1984 that has saved the lives of over 10,000 babies throughout its history — work she continues to do with her son James Pelletier to assist women in crisis pregnancies.

Deacon Tacho Perez of Wichita Falls. At 93 years old, he still serves the Hispanic population in Wichita Falls, including newly arrived immigrants as well as longtime citizens. At Our Lady of Guadalupe, the permanent deacon assists at Mass, consoles the bereaved, conducts funerals, visits the sick, and brings the homebound Holy Communion.

Benemerenti Medal recipient Deacon Tacho Perez is congratulated by parishioners after Mass on February 11, 2024, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Wichita Falls. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Bill Quinn of Arlington. An active parishioner at Most Blessed Sacrament, the accountant serves as a valuable advisor to the diocese, Catholic Charities Fort Worth, and the Advancement Foundation of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth by recommending investments, screening companies, and avoiding investment with companies who do not align with Catholic teaching.

Doreen Quinn of Arlington. A teacher by training, she and her husband, Bill, have been strong advocates and supporters of Catholic education. They were original founding members of the Fort Worth chapter of Legatus. A parishioner of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, she has provided invaluable assistance to couples in their preparation for the sacrament of matrimony and served as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

Bill Ross of Fort Worth. The St. Andrew parishioner has promoted vocations as a member of the Serra Club and by organizing the annual diocesan Vocation Awareness Program, which assists young men and women in discerning a vocation to priesthood or religious life. He is an active member in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and has assisted in the planning and organization of regional conferences of the Order.

Tessy Ross of Fort Worth. She has fostered Catholic education as a St. Andrew Catholic School junior high school teacher and in the diocesan Catholic Schools Office. She holds active membership in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and has planned and organized regional conferences of the Order and large diocesan celebrations, such as the ordination and installation of two bishops and the celebration of the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the diocese’s establishment.

Sandra Townsend of Fort Worth. For 43 years, the St. Andrew parishioner has demonstrated joyful service and dedication to the faith in teaching pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students at St. Andrew Catholic School, as well as building community among teachers and staff.

In addition to the medal, recipients received a framed certificate of commendation from the Holy See, written in Latin.

A closer look at the Benemerenti Medal. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

The award dates to the late 1700s, when Pope Pius VI bestowed it on papal soldiers. In 1925, Pope Pius XI expanded the granting of the medal to include individuals in civil, military, laity, and clergy positions as a recognition of exceptional service to the Catholic Church.

In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI honored 10 individuals in the Diocese of Fort Worth with the Benemerenti Medal.

Bishop Olson stated, “The Benemerenti Medal unites us more closely with the communion of the whole Catholic Church. … They are given out with due reflection and significance. I’m very grateful we have this many people who we honor and have been judged worthy to receive this honor of the Holy See.”

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