By Katherine Long
Sun associate editor
It was standing room only at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse when Bishop Robert Cunningham presented lay volunteers from 73 parishes with the first-ever Immaculata Awards for Service Dec. 4.
The award was created by Bishop Cunningham as a way to recognize, on the occasion of the diocese’s 125th anniversary, the laymen and laywomen whose volunteer service is essential to building and strengthening their parish communities.
“I felt it important to honor the unsung heroes whose love of the Church has been shown through their devotion to the Holy Father, to our diocese and to their parish,” said Bishop Cunningham.
At Bishop Cunningham’s request, pastors and/or parish councils from across the diocese nominated an extraordinary lay volunteer — in some cases a married couple — from each of their parishes to receive the award.
Arthur and Sarah Bouchard, parishioners of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Syracuse, were nominated for the award in recognition of their 63 years of dedication to the parish. St. Anthony pastor Father Robert Chryst said both he and the parish council identified the Bouchards for the award in light of their numerous contributions to the parish, their longtime service at Masses and in the upkeep of the church.
Echoing the humble sentiments of many of the honorees, Arthur Bouchard said he and his wife simply “do what needs to be done,” and that they do it because they love serving their Church.
Bishop Cunningham, along with retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello, celebrated a solemn Vespers Service and awards ceremony at the Cathedral to honor the Bouchards and their fellow award recipients. The pews were filled to overflowing by the honorees, their nominating pastors, family and friends, prompting Bishop Cunningham to invite those standing at the back of the church to sit in empty pews near the front, joking that those already seated wouldn’t assume they had arrived late to the service.
In his homily (reprinted in full on page 3 of this issue), Bishop Cunningham expressed his gratitude for the selfless efforts of the men and women who give their time and talents to build up the Church.
“You bring Christ into the world… by your quiet and consistent witness to the Gospel of Christ…. Through your words and actions, His Gospel is proclaimed,” he said.
Bishop Cunningham then presented the recipients with their Immaculata Awards. Designed by Baker Liturgical Art, LLC, the bronze medallions show an image of the Immaculate Conception — the patroness of the diocese — on one side and of the Cathedral — the “parish church” of the diocese — on the reverse. In addition to the medallions, the honorees also received a standing ovation for their service.
For an afternoon, often-invisible helping hands were front and center. But like many of her fellow recipients, Janet O’Toole, who, along with her husband Edward, was honored for work at St. Paul Church in Whitesboro, gave the credit to God.
“I feel led by the Lord to use the gifts He gave me to build the Kingdom here on earth,” she said. “It is all through God’s grace.”