Cheverus Awards honor service to the Church

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SOUTH END -- Cardinal Seán O'Malley presented the Cheverus Award to 124 individuals and two religious communities in a prayer service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Nov. 24, the feast of Christ the King.

This annual award was inaugurated in 2008, the year of the archdiocese's bicentennial. Named after the first bishop of Boston, the award honors local Catholics for service to the Church. Each year, one-third of the parishes in the archdiocese are asked to nominate a parishioner to receive the 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 lead key ministries or serve on archdiocesan committees. The cardinal can also select additional recipients.

In his homily during the prayer service, Cardinal O'Malley said the liturgical year ends with the feast of Christ the King "to show that, for believers, all history converges on the sovereignty of our God. And fittingly enough, this feast always takes place near our very American celebration of Thanksgiving."

"Today, we want to give thanks to our loving God for all the gifts that so often we take for granted. We're especially mindful of the generous, faith-filled people of our parishes, schools, agencies and organizations that carry on the mission of evangelization, of service, that Christ has entrusted to us," Cardinal O'Malley said.

The cardinal noted that it was the first presentation of the Cheverus Awards in the newly renovated cathedral, which was built by poor immigrants and now serves as "a sign of hope" as well as a center of community.

"Just as the renovation of this cathedral is a sign of hope, the celebration of the Cheverus Award is a great sign of hope," Cardinal O'Malley said.

This year, the award recipients included not only individual religious and laypeople but also two orders of women religious, the Missionaries of Charity in Dorchester and the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Newton. Cardinal O'Malley spoke of the crucial role of women religious in schools, hospitals, and other organizations.

"The 126 Cheverus Award recipients this year are but a representation of so many volunteers and devoted workers in our parishes. The awardees represent efforts of so many different areas of life in our Church," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He also spoke about the history of the award's namesake, Bishop Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, the first bishop of Boston. Bishop Cheverus was a priest in France at the time of the French Revolution, when many Catholic leaders were persecuted. He was imprisoned but escaped and went on to serve the Catholics of New England as one of only two priests in the region.

The local Protestant community came to have great respect for him, and the famous painter Gilbert Stuart made a portrait of him, which now hangs in the Pastoral Center. The medals given to Cheverus Award recipients bear an image of Stewart's painting as well as the bishop's motto, "diligamus nos invicem," "Let us love one another."

The presentation was followed by a reception at Cathedral High School.

Speaking to the Pilot after the prayer service, one award recipient, Carol Yaroschuk, said she felt "extremely humbled" to receive the Cheverus Award. She has been a member of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Marshfield for over 20 years, serving as a eucharistic minister and working with Sowing Seeds of Hope, an ecumenical outreach ministry.

"The story of Bishop Cheverus is amazing," Yaroschuk said, adding that "to be getting an award with that name -- that's good."

Martin Cunniffe, an award recipient from St. Bartholomew Parish in Needham, said he was surprised when he first heard about his nomination. He brings communion to a nursing home and has been a member of the choir and parish council.

"It really makes me feel very good, and I appreciate it, the gratitude of the Church," Cunniffe said.