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Toledo diocese honors 11 with papal medals

Pope-sanctioned awards given for lifetime of service

  • Rosary-Cathedral-Collingwood-Boulevard-Bishop-Leonard-Blair

    Bishop of Toledo Leonard Blair, seated at left with other members of the clergy, prepares to present honors at Rosary Cathedral on Collingwood Boulevard.

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  • Benemerenti-Medal-winners-Jack-Altenburger-Deacon-Alfredo-Diaz

    Benemerenti Medal winners Jack Altenburger of Toledo, left, and Deacon Alfredo Diaz of Fremont prepare to enter the cathedral in the procession.

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  • Bishop-Leonard-Blair-Ursuline-Sister-Nancy-Mathias-Oregon-Benemerenti

    Bishop Leonard Blair chats with Ursuline Sister Nancy Mathias of Oregon, who was awarded a Benemerenti (Latin for ‘well deserved’) Medal during the closing Centenary Vesper Service.

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Bishop-Leonard-Blair-Ursuline-Sister-Nancy-Mathias-Oregon-Benemerenti

Bishop Leonard Blair chats with Ursuline Sister Nancy Mathias of Oregon, who was awarded a Benemerenti (Latin for ‘well deserved’) Medal during the closing Centenary Vesper Service.

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On the last day of celebrations for its 100-year anniversary, the Diocese of Toledo on Sunday presented Pope-sanctioned Benemerenti Medals — which the diocese has given out only once before — to 11 individuals for a lifetime of diocese service. Church officials also honored 158 members of parishes, religious schools, and hospitals and the owners of an FM Catholic radio station.

“After 100 years as a diocese, it is impossible to thank everyone, but it is possible to identify individuals who exemplify Christian service and to express our gratitude,” Bishop Leonard Blair said in a packed Rosary Cathedral on Collingwood Boulevard Sunday night.

The service, on Pentecost Sunday — the end of the Easter season — marked the end of commemorations that started about a year and a half ago, in which members of the diocese worked to revitalize participation within the Church.

The diocese also constructed a cross that traveled to every church and affiliated hospital, school, and nursing home in the diocese.

Rosary-Cathedral-Collingwood-Boulevard-Bishop-Leonard-Blair

Bishop of Toledo Leonard Blair, seated at left with other members of the clergy, prepares to present honors at Rosary Cathedral on Collingwood Boulevard.

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And in October, 2009, members of the diocese stopped by every house within their parish — or every non-Catholic within their parish, in the case of larger regions — to encourage more participation in church services, according to the Msgr. Michael Billian, the chancellor of the diocese.

“One thing we didn’t expect was a renewal of faith by the people who did the visiting,” Monsignor Billian said.

The awards were issued as the district faces a nationwide trend of declining attendance.Jack Altenburger, a Benemerenti Medal recipient and former superintendent for Catholic schools in the diocese, said that since he began his career in education, district attendance has dropped from about 38,000 to 20,000.

“We hope that [these awards] will inspire those who might be here to witness a relative or friend receiving an award to regularly attend if they aren’t already doing so,” said the diocese’s communications director, Sally Oberski.

Only one other Benemerenti (Latin for “well deserved”) Medal has been given in the diocese’s history — to K. LaVerne Redden in 2002, president of the National Council of Catholic Women.

Mr. Altenburger spent 41 years in Catholic education, from teaching business at Sandusky St. Mary Central Catholic in 1969 to serving as principal at Central Catholic High School and finally for seven years as superintendent.

“[For me] this is the ultimate award,” he said, noting that he felt he was accepting it on behalf of many people he worked with over the years.

Another recipient and Toledo resident was Catherine Kruse, who was the first director of Equal Access Ministries and who said she worked with people with disabilities for 40 years.

Benemerenti-Medal-winners-Jack-Altenburger-Deacon-Alfredo-Diaz

Benemerenti Medal winners Jack Altenburger of Toledo, left, and Deacon Alfredo Diaz of Fremont prepare to enter the cathedral in the procession.

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“Being allowed to serve God is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Ms. Kruse said. “And this comes next.”

Many of the awards were accidentally passed out to the wrong recipients during the ceremony, and Bishop Blair apologized at the ceremony’s close.

“We only do this every 100 years,” Rev. Blair said, to laughter from the audience.

The first Benemerenti Medals were awarded in 1791.

Contact Daniel Bethencourt at: 419-724-6050 or dbethencourt@theblade.com.

 

Benemerenti Medal Recipients

Jack Altenburger, Toledo, former superintendent of Catholic schools

Ruth Ann Bishop, Mansfield, Ohio, Catholic Charities

Deacon Alfredo Diaz, Fremont, Hispanic ministry-permanent diaconate

Deacon Floyd Hohman, New Riegel, Ohio, New Riegel rural life ministry

Catherine Kruse, Toledo, Toledo Equal Access ministries

Frank Link, Sandusky, Court of Equity-Diocesan Review Board

Rosalyn Liston, Lima, Ohio, Worship, Vocations-Diocesan Review Board

Sister Nancy Mathias, Oregon, Consecrated Religious Life-Catechesis and Formation

Patricia Oedy-Murray, Oregon, higher education religious instruction

Sister Mary Thill, Sylvania, health care

Michael Wasserman, Waterville, parish religious education

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