Thursday, June 18, 2015

They Don't Wear Capes or Scale Tall Buildings but These Catholic Heroes are Making a Difference to the Marginalized

Finalists for national award are living examples of Pope Francis's message of mercy

Contact: Lisa Gunggoll, 708-829-8669,

CHICAGO, June 18, 2015 /Christian Newswire/ -- Walking among us, albeit in some of the most remote and farthest reaches of America, are true heroes who are living examples of Pope Francis's call to mercy. These selfless men and women, who have answered the pope's call to go out to the margins and serve others, are being recognized by Catholic Extension, a papal society whose mission is to build and strengthen the Catholic faith throughout the United States. They are the finalists for the Lumen Christi Award (Lumen Christi meaning "the Light of Christ"), Catholic Extension's highest national honor.

The bishop of each diocese nominated the finalists, and each one has a compelling story that demonstrates how faith can transform lives and communities, even in the most challenging of circumstances. The 2015 finalists are a diverse group of two priests, two religious sisters and six laypeople, ranging from a school principal on a Native American reservation to a catechist who drives more than 2,000 miles each month to serve nearly two dozen isolated towns. All of them represent the qualities of heroes in their selfless and courageous service to others and their passionate conviction to share their faith with those in need of mercy.

"Pope Francis has proclaimed 2016 as a Holy Year of Mercy to highlight the Catholic Church's 'mission to be a witness of mercy,'" said Catholic Extension President Rev. John J. Wall. "As the pope prepares for his first visit to the United States, Catholic Extension is honored to share the stories of these remarkable individuals who live the virtue of mercy every day. Each of this year's Lumen Christi finalists should serve as a reminder of how we can all be the light of Christ to others," he added.

A total of 10 finalists were chosen from 47 dioceses, marking an all-time record for the highest number of dioceses submitting a nomination in the award's 38-year history. In all, dioceses from 29 states and one U.S. territory provided submissions. The complete list of finalists is as follows:
    Diocese of Sacramento (Calif.) - Steve Ramirez-Palmer has dedicated his life to helping youth realize their potential as citizens and Christians, influencing hundreds if not thousands of high-risk low-income youth in rural Yolo County, Calif. Steve strives to replace negative behavior with positive activities by teaching kids that friendship and fellowship are possible with others who may not look like them, speak the same language or come from the same income level.

    Diocese of Savannah (Ga.) -Father Fredy Angel, who was born and raised in Colombia, has been described as a "battle-tested" priest whose gift is helping rural Georgia towns become thriving faith communities. In the 7-½ years since becoming pastor of Queen of Peace and its three missions, he has helped bring 154 people from poverty-stricken areas to their first Communion. During his ministry, Father Fredy regularly drove 150 miles every weekend to celebrate bilingual Mass until he eventually helped begin construction on a new centrally located church to better serve the area.

    Diocese of Bismarck (N.D.) - Benedictine Sister Kathleen Atkinson founded Ministry on the Margins to support prisoners, homeless people, and at-risk youth who have few options during times of transition. Since 2014, the program has served more than 2,000 people and includes a prison-to-society re-entry program that has helped the recidivism rate drop from 33 percent to just 7 percent among her participants.

    Diocese of Birmingham (Ala.) - The Guadalupan Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit lead La Casita, a nonprofit agency that is part of Hispanic Catholic Social Services. The program helps transform the lives of once "invisible" workers, mostly from Guatemala and Mexico, by teaching them new skills and helping improve employer-employee relations. Considered statewide leaders in the fight for immigrant justice, the sisters are widely known as a source of information and direction, but mostly for the love and support they provide through their faith.

    Diocese of El Paso (Texas) - Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez is the West Texas Coordinator for the Religious Formation Ministry serving 1,100 Hispanic Catholic youth and their families in desolate areas. "Lupe" racks up the miles in these desolate areas by driving 700 miles each week ministering to Hispanic Catholics through bilingual leadership training and high quality religious formation programs.

    Archdiocese of Agana (Guam) - Kevin An Delgado oversees 30 youth ministries within the parish of Santa Teresita and surrounding areas of the island community, which has a high suicide rate, especially among young people. Over the past 20 years, Kevin has sponsored 403 men and women, building up their faith, morals and leadership. Many have become doctors, lawyers, educators and entrepreneurs who thank Kevin for their success by continuing to serve the Church as adults.

    Diocese of Biloxi (Miss.) - Bragg Moore has served as a youth minister for more than 30 years. He instills in Catholic youth a strong faith and the knowledge that they are the Church's future, worthy of its investment and capable of making a difference in the lives of others. Bragg inspires youth through his words and actions by living the Catholic life and is among the country's most respected youth ministers.

    Diocese of Gallup (N.M.) - Madeline Lyon is a one-time volunteer teacher turned school principal. Situated high in the northern New Mexico mountains, the small St. Francis of Assisi School has a student body comprised of 86 percent Native Americans from the nearby reservation, where alcoholism, early parental death and suicide are among the challenges facing students. Madeline and her small staff work tirelessly to overcome social issues, raise the standards of education and mentor fledgling teachers, all within a nurturing Christian environment.

    Diocese of Marquette (Mich.) - St. Francis Connection Center was started by the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres to minister to local families struggling after the 1995 closing of K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base. The center distributes food to area families in need, but it primarily helps spread the Catholic faith through religious education, prayer and community gatherings, cultivating a positive Catholic community in the process.

    Diocese of Juneau (Alaska) -Father Peter Gorges spent more than 30 years as a parish pastor, visiting remote villages and logging camps only accessible by ferry and float planes until his 2001 retirement at age 66. Since then he has stayed on in Juneau as a volunteer pastor, routinely visiting far-flung parishes to bring a familiar face to the people who depend on him for spiritual development. He frequently goes above and beyond to serve, like when he visited churches at four remote Eskimo villages, ministering to the communities while living without amenities like running water.
Each of the finalists' stories is being shared in a social media campaign on Catholic Extension's Facebook page at A different finalist is being featured each week leading up to the announcement of the ultimate recipient later this summer. Their stories and more information about Catholic Extension can also be found at

Editor's Note: High-res photos and full bios of all the finalists are available by contacting Lisa Gunggoll at

About Catholic Extension: Catholic Extension is a papal society that makes visible the power of faith in America's most marginalized communities by strategically investing in people, infrastructure and ministries. Since its founding in 1905, Catholic Extension has distributed more than $1.2 billion in today's dollars to provide funding and resources to dioceses and parishes that cannot support themselves. For more information visit; follow us on Facebook at or twitter at @CathExtension.