Bishop Lucia confers Immaculata Awards on more  than 100 volunteers at parishes

By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

The Holy Spirit fuels heavy-duty prophets and volunteers such as Richard Murphy of Divine Mercy Parish in Central Square.

Murphy owns a backhoe that he used to excavate the parking areas when his church was renovated and expanded several years ago. He also volunteers to mow the lawn every week—“somebody’s gotta do it.”

Bishop Douglas J. Lucia, noting “that you and I have been given that same Holy Spirit that Mary received,” conferred Immaculata Awards Sunday on Richard and Barbara Murphy and about 120 other people from 86 parishes in what the bishop called an “august gathering” at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. Since 2011, over 1,100 volunteers have received Immaculata Awards.

William and Cynthia Berg of the Parish of Sts. John and Andrew in Binghamton accept their Immaculata Award from Bishop Douglas J. Lucia. (Sun photos | Chuck Wainwright)

“It makes me feel good that somebody cares that you do somethin’ for ’em,” Richard Murphy said.

Sunday’s Solemn Vespers ceremony, which filled many of the pews, included a hymn, the chanting of psalms, a reading of Philippians 4:4-5, a responsory, the Canticle of Mary, intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer and Bishop Lucia’s blessing.

“As I go throughout our diocese,” Bishop Lucia said in his homily, “whether on pastoral visits or engaging in listening sessions, I’m conscious of one thing: the ways in which one says yes to God can inspire others to say yes to God.”

Faithful service

Bishop Emeritus Robert J. Cunningham processes toward the sanctuary for the start of the Immaculata Awards ceremony. (Sun photos | Chuck Wainwright)

He said the Immaculata Awards were established by his predecessor, Bishop Emeritus Robert J. Cunningham, who was seated behind him. “And he did so to honor lay men and women throughout our diocese for their faithful service to Christ and his Church, particularly in their parish communities,” Bishop Lucia said. “To these women and men, to those being honored today in particular, we offer our congratulations, an expression of our gratitude for their witness.

“They are living and concrete examples of showing how God is active in our lives, and of the discipleship first modeled by Mary, Mother of the Savior, Mother of the Church. They are also prophets of our day, calling you and me to join in as well to prepare the way of the Lord and help others to see the salvation of God.”

William and Cynthia Berg of the Parish of Sts. John and Andrew in Binghamton accept their Immaculata Award from Bishop Douglas J. Lucia. (Sun photos | Chuck Wainwright)

Another industrious Immaculata honoree is Arnaldo Perez of St. John the Evangelist Church in Bainbridge. He said: “I’m an usher. I do the collections, and I do all kinds of repairs and work for the church …, whatever is needed—statues, paint them, fix their fingers, whatever.”

A former maintenance worker for the City of New York, Arnaldo, 86, said he came upstate and “fell in love with this place.” On Nov. 19, he celebrated 61 years of marriage to his wife, Sabina, 82. When they lived in the Bronx, she said, it was the same story: Arnaldo would come home from work, have dinner and go to Holy Cross Church to volunteer. Their son Arnold Perez, a retired phone-company worker from Yonkers, said that ever since he was little, his parents have always been very involved in the church.

One time in the Bronx, Arnaldo and a friend were cleaning a seven-foot-tall cross in the basement when one of them lit up a cigar; the fumes from the cleaning material ignited, but Arnaldo said the cross “absorbed the fire” and “nothing happened to me and my friend.”

Another awardee, Marie Baer of Church of the Holy Trinity, Binghamton, was “very humbled.” She volunteers at bingo, serves as a Eucharistic minister and helps open the church—“I help out wherever I can. … Very, very honored to do anything at the church.”

‘Everybody needs volunteers’

A former dispatcher for the City of Binghamton, she said, “If I can help somebody, it makes me feel good.” The church, in return, is “always grateful that I can help out, because everybody needs volunteers. … It’s just a lot of satisfaction in my heart.”

Likewise serving in a variety of capacities is awardee Ellen Holst, of the Mission of St. Bernadette in Constantia and Divine Mercy Parish in Central Square. A registered nurse who served in administration as well as direct nursing, she is a St. Bernadette trustee, Diocesan Pastoral Council member, parish funeral-ministry leader and grief-support group co-facilitator. She also cleans the church—“anything that needs to be done. It’s the way I can give back to my community and my parish who were there for me when I lost my husband.”

Shortly thereafter she lost her sister and her nephew, she said, and Father Christopher Celentano “was there all three times for myself and my family. And now we have Father Christopher Seibt who’s equally supportive. And I just feel like I have the energy and the ability and God gave me the talents to do certain things and why not use ’em?”

In conjunction with the Food Bank of Central New York, honorees Bob and Kathleen Bojanek do a food distribution to 250 to 300 families a month from the parking lot of St. John the Baptist Church in Rome. Eighty percent of the recipients live in Rome but they come from as far away as Syracuse, Bob said.

“There’s a tremendous number of people who live below the poverty line in our communities in upstate New York in general,” Bob said. “So there’s a tremendous need.” Served are senior citizens, including those raising their grandchildren, and families with children.

“Early in the pandemic,” he said, “you saw professionals who had never thought they would be without work ever in their lives, and suddenly everything was shut down. … You’re paying for all your student loans and suddenly you’re without work, you had no cash flow—yeah, it’s a problem.”

A former engineer who is “repurposed, not retired,” Bob said volunteering for his church is no burden, it’s part of his private life. “There’s plenty of time in the day to do many, many things,” he said. “So I’m still a runner, I’m still a biker …, involved in many, many different organizations.”

Asked if they ever get a sense of thankfulness from the people they serve, Kathleen said, “They’re very grateful and appreciative. Sometimes they’ll bring us a flower.”

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