Lay volunteers from 76 parishes across the diocese were recognized for their dedicated service Dec. 7 as they were honored with Immaculata Awards at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse.
Inaugurated by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham in 2011 as part of the diocese’s 125th anniversary celebration, Immaculata Awards recognize the “unsung heroes in our midst who build up our parish communities by extraordinary service.” Recipients are nominated for the award by their pastors and/or parish councils.
On the eve of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bishop Cunningham spoke of Mary’s role as mother and first disciple of the Lord, the one who brought Christ to the world and to each of us.
“By faith, Christ the Eternal Son of the Father dwells in you. What a gift. But it is a gift that you generously share. Through your generosity, your unselfish service and your quiet and consistent witness to the Gospel, you have brought Christ to others,” he said. “We acknowledge your gift of time and talent to the mission of the Church within the context of Vespers, where each evening the beautiful Magnificat of Mary is sung or recited. Like Mary, you proclaim the greatness of the Lord, rejoice in His presence and rely upon His grace as you work to build up the Church.”
Among this year’s Immaculata recipients were Kathleen and the late John Colligan of St. James Church in Johnson City. Nominated by pastor Father John Donovan for their “tremendous amount of work for the Church over the years,” the Colligans’ extensive service has included ministry as lectors, Eucharistic ministers and faith formation teachers; the diocese’s co-directors of Family Life Education in the Southern Region, they were also active in parish renewal, marriage enrichment and pre-cana ministries.
Married for 56 years when John passed away in October, Kathy said accepting their award was emotional for her. “There’s nothing that I ever did in the parish without John. We were always a team together. I really miss him,” she said.
Their commitment to service came from the simple fact that the Church has always been the center of their lives and family, Kathy said: “When you really love God, you really want to spread the word. When you know that people’s lives could be so much richer and fuller and more joyful — all the things they’re looking for — you want to say, ‘Come.’”
Also nominated by Father Donovan, Marie Lukasik of Holy Trinity Church in Binghamton was the first person from her parish to ever receive an Immaculata Award — but she was quick to note the award was not hers alone. “I’m humbled. Our parish has come a long way through the efforts of many, many, many volunteers,” she said, noting that the parish was formed through a merger. “I’m accepting this, but it’s to share,” she added.
Lukasik’s service in the parish includes coordinating lectors, Eucharistic ministers, greeters and altar servers; chairing the liturgy and worship committee; serving as president of the Altar Rosary Society; and ministering to the homebound. Lukasik said she continues her service “because I can and because I want to. And I get way more out of it than I put into it — I really do.”