Pope Francis bestows honors on 18 local Catholics


Pope Francis has bestowed papal honors upon 18 people for their dedication and exceptional service to the Diocese of St. Augustine over the last 10 years. The honors were conferred by Bishop Felipe J. Estévez on Sept. 19 at a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

“It is a privilege for me to present these papal honors on behalf of our Holy Father, Pope Francis,” said Estévez. “The men and women honored have provided exceptional service to the local church and their community. I wish I could have recommended many other parishioners of the diocese who have also served the church exceptionally for the Lord and his people.”

The honorees, including lay individuals, couples, religious sisters and a permanent deacon, received their honors in three award categories.

Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great

The Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, one of the five pontifical knightly orders, was founded by Pope Gregory XVI in 1831 to honor his sixth-century predecessor.

In the nearly 200 years since that time, sitting pontiffs have awarded it to diplomats, artists, scientists, world leaders and interfaith leaders from all walks of life who have shown by their service extraordinary love for Jesus Christ and his church.

Membership signifies recognition from the Holy Father for service already rendered and an invitation from him to continue a life of exemplary Christian witness.

The honorees are Gary Chartrand of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Ponte Vedra Beach, Joe Helow of Holy Family Parish in Jacksonville, David and Mary Pat Kulik of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish, Warren Powers of Holy Spirit Parish in Jacksonville and Alton Yates of Holy Rosary Parish in Jacksonville.

Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice

The Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, also known as the Cross of Honor, comes directly from the Holy See and is composed of a gold medal with the name of the honoree inscribed, as well as a scroll.

The honor was established in 1888 and is given to Catholics who have shown distinguished service to the church and the papal office.

The honorees are Ernest Bono of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Ponte Vedra Berach, Robert Hart of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish, John Delaney of St. Paul Parish in Jacksonville Beach, Caridad Lee and James Stockman of Queen of Peace Parish in Gainesville and Gwendoline Yates of Holy Rosary Parish in Jacksonville.

Benemerenti Medal

The Benemerenti Medal was created by Pope Gregory XVI in 1832 and was first awarded to soldiers in the papal army. The medal was later extended to members of the clergy and laity for exceptional service to the Roman Catholic Church.

The honorees are Sisters of St. Joseph, Thomas Joseph McGoldrick and Elizabeth Kennedy of St. Augustine, Martha Lucia Alers-Alers of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Orange Park, Deacon Lowell Corky Hecht of St. Joseph Parish in Jacksonville, Gregory Montana of Assumption Parish in Jacksonville and Chau Thien Phan of Santa Maria del Mar Parish in Flagler Beach.


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