Grateful diocese honors two groups supporting vocations

Photo Caption: Pere Marquette Awards for service went to the Serra Club of the Champaign-Urbana Vicariate (pictured with Bishop Jenky) as well as the Peoria Area Religious Vocations Support Group.

By: By Tom Dermody

As Thanksgiving Day nears and the late harvest continues, the Diocese of Peoria paused last Sunday to specially thank two groups for their efforts to grow a culture of vocations.

“Our honorees are true heroes of our diocese,” said Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, in bestowing the Pere Marquette Award for exemplary service to members of the Serra Club of the Champaign-Urbana Vicariate and the Peoria Area Religious Vocations Support Group. The presentations came at the close of a diocesan Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

For decades, members of the two groups have worked and prayed in support of seminarians, priests, deacons, and men and women religious.

Receiving the recognition during the Year for Priests designated by Pope Benedict XVI is “a great honor for us,” said Jim McCabe, director of the Peoria Area group. At a reception following the Mass, he said the 38 families involved in fostering and promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life do so in gratitude for what they have received from the church, and because “the seminarians are such wonderful men and we really enjoy being with them.”

Jim Moffitt of Serra echoed those sentiments and added the group’s 23 members not only support vocations “but further our own Catholic faith” through twice monthly gatherings that include instructions by their chaplain.

THIS MARKED the first time that the diocese’s Pere Marquette Award was presented to groups rather than individuals. Members of the two organizations were seated in the cathedral’s front pews and representatives were invited forward to receive plaques from Bishop Jenky and Father Brian Brownsey, diocesan director of priestly vocations.

Father Brownsey said that while “vocations is everybody’s business,” he was pleased the diocese was recognizing the special efforts of these two groups that have “kept the culture of vocations” growing for so long.

Bishop Jenky called the honorees “living witnesses” to the meaning of Christianity. The men and women of the two organizations “imitate Jesus Christ through their generous love and self-giving.”

“They manifest solid faith in the good news,” said the bishop, and serve the church “both when it is easy and when it is hard, in season and out of season.”

The Mass was celebrated as many farmers throughout the diocese continued a harvest season delayed by wet fields. In addition to thanksgiving for the bounty of the harvest, prayers were also offered for farmers’ safety and that God “protect and guide those who work to feed the world.”

VOICES FROM St. Robert Bellarmine Newman Center at Illinois State University joined the cathedral choir in providing music for last Sunday’s celebration. Also in attendance were many past diocesan and papal honorees. They were recognized after the presentations of the Marquette Awards and received robust applause from the assembly.

Seated in the front pew with the Serra Club honorees was Ray Fairchild, district governor for Serra International. Fairchild called the Champaign-Urbana members “a very dedicated group of Serrans” who are “very well known” for their annual summer picnic for all priests, sisters, deacons and seminarians of the vicariate. “They support vocations 100 percent,” said Fairchild.

The Serra Club of the Champaign-Urbana Vicariate has promoted vocations to the priesthood and religious life for 36 years. Charter member Joe Tobias accepted the plaque on behalf of the group.

The club, the only group in the diocese chartered with Serra International, also has a program to pray for every priest in the vicariate. Their next major event will be a banquet that will specially honor all priests from the vicariate on Dec. 1 at the Champaign Country Club.

Moffitt said the award and support from Bishop Jenky is an encouragement for the group, which hopes to again have representatives from every parish in the vicariate. For information on the Serra club, call Moffitt at (217) 367-5221.

THE PEORIA Area Religious Vocations Support Group was formed in 1988, and currently embraces 38 households from five Peoria area parishes. The group funds a summer picnic and golf outing and contributes funds toward a Christmas dinner for the seminarians. Members also attend two annually arranged Masses and brief business meetings at area parishes, send cards on special occasions to those they’ve adopted through a “Keep in Touch Program,” and pledge personal prayer for vocations and for an assigned seminarian, priest or religious.

The next Peoria Area meeting is Dec. 6 following the 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Philomena Parish, Peoria.

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