Service to Church recognized at Cheverus Awards presentation

MALDEN -- Continuing a 10-year tradition, Cardinal Seán O'Malley presented the Cheverus Award Medal to 125 laypersons, deacons, and religious during a prayer service on Nov. 25, the feast of Christ the King, at Immaculate Conception Church in Malden.

Named for Cardinal Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, the first bishop of Boston, the Cheverus Award honors local Catholics for service to the Church, many of who have done so for many years, often without public recognition. In the past, the cardinal has referred the Cheverus Medal recipients as the "unsung heroes and heroines" of the archdiocese.

This annual award was inaugurated in 2008, as part of the commemorations of the archdiocese's bicentennial.

Each year, one-third of the parishes in the archdiocese are asked to nominate a parishioner to receive the Cheverus Award. The regional bishops and episcopal vicars are asked to nominate a religious and a deacon, while the Central Ministries of the archdiocese nominate people who serve on archdiocesan committees or lead key ministries. The cardinal can also select additional recipients.

In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley spoke of the Thanksgiving holiday, which was celebrated just a few days earlier.

He recalled a television show from his youth called "The Millionaire," in which a millionaire gave checks for $1 million to strangers. What struck Cardinal O'Malley, he said, was that the recipients did not think much about the benefactor.

"Sometimes we can become so fascinated by gifts that we forget all about the giver," he said, adding that Thanksgiving is "a wonderful time to show gratitude to God."

"The history of Thanksgiving right here in Massachusetts shows us that we need to be more aware of the gifts that God has given us and the gifts that we are to one another," he said.

He then told a story about his father, Theodore O'Malley, who was once in an airplane crash, where half of the people on board died on impact. Theodore O'Malley had been sitting by a wing and was thrown out of the plane, which was on fire. However, he crawled back in to help other passengers who were trapped and saved many lives, the cardinal said.

Though the family has been informed of the crash, the cardinal said for a time they were unsure of his father's fate.

"I never remember being more thankful than that moment that my dad got out of the car and walked in the house," Cardinal O'Malley said.

About a week later, a family came to the O'Malleys' door to thank his father for saving their lives. The cardinal said it reminded him of the 10 lepers Jesus healed, only one of whom came back to thank him.

"That story shows us that God is grateful for our gratitude. Jesus was grateful to the Samaritan who came back to say thanks. We are at our best when we are grateful. The Cheverus Medals are a way, in the Catholic community, that we say 'thank you' to God and 'thank you' to our brothers and sisters in the household of faith," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He pointed to the award's namesake as an example of someone who displayed "faithful service in difficult times."

Bishop Cheverus was born in France and was imprisoned during the French Revolution because he would not renounce his faith. His motto, inscribed on the backs of the medals, was "diligamus nos invicem," "Let us serve one another."

"This is what our vocation is about: realizing how much God loves us and being thankful for that love and expressing our gratitude in the way we thank and love and help each other and celebrate each other's gifts," Cardinal O'Malley said.

Before presenting the Cheverus Award Medals, Cardinal O'Malley called attention to the variety and length of service performed by the recipients. One woman, he said, did the laundry in her parish for 60 years. One man was an altar server at funerals in his parish for 22 years.

"You are the motor that keeps our Church running," Cardinal O'Malley told the honorees.

The ceremony was followed by a reception in the church hall.

The honorees themselves expressed gratitude for both the award and the other recipients.

"I deeply appreciate the works of all of these people who are receiving awards today," Cheverus Medal recipient Christopher Lee told The Pilot. Lee is a member of the Order of Malta and a parishioner of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

He added, "I think they should be celebrated. I'm very thankful to be recognized."

"I never expected this," Charlotte Morin said of receiving the award. She said she has belonged to Immaculate Conception Parish in Lowell for 40 years and worked there for 25 years in various capacities.

"You name it, I do it," Morin said, adding that her roles have included sacristan and housekeeper.

"I don't think I deserve it," said Robert Lyons, a lay minister from Holy Family Parish in Duxbury. He works as a chaplain at Plymouth Hospital and is part of his parish's Stephen Ministry, which trains laypeople to care for people who are hurting or in need.

"I know at least 100 people who deserve it more than I do. But they guaranteed me it came with extra grace, so I'm happy about that," Lyons said.