Fourteen humbled by papal honors


CHARLESTON — Fourteen faithful of the Church of Charleston who were honored by the pope in April received their awards at a special ceremony on Nov. 30 in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

The honorees included five who received the papal medal “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice,” eight who were installed into the Order of St. Gregory the Great and one priest who was granted the title of Reverend Monsignor. It was the first occasion for papal honors in the Diocese of Charleston since 1991, but it may not be the last under the episcopacy of the Bishop David B. Thompson, the current and 11th bishop of Charleston.

Bishop Thompson, who is required by canon law to retire when he reaches his 75th birthday in May 1998, said that he hopes to have another round of papal honors approved before a new bishop is appointed. He also said that he was pleased with the make-up of the 1997 honorees — two women religious, two priests, three lay women and seven lay men.

“It’s a good mix for this time,” the bishop said, “and they’re spread throughout the diocese. In 1991, the list was predominately priests.”

He called the conferral ceremonies the Pontifical Olympics, where all participants win a gold medal, and he said the honors represent the Church’s gratitude to people who have dedicated their lives to her service.

“You have made the Church alive,” Bishop Thompson said in his homily. “Thank you for being such noble participants.”

Sir Wyatt B. Pringle, a newly installed Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, called the bishop “generous” for requesting the honors from the pope. Although it was a personal privilege, Pringle said that there was more to it than that: “It’s grand for this diocese to know that these things exist.”

Julius Stent agreed, saying that he came to enjoy the honors ceremonies because they illustrate to the rest of the world “the good work that our unsung heroes do.”

Some of the honorees felt doubly blessed, Dame Bette Griffith because she and her husband Sir Joseph Griffith were awarded their honors together, and Sir Norman A. Haft because he is a convert from Judaism and has been a Catholic for only 10 years.

“It makes you feel kind of humble to be in the company of these people who have spent so much time working for the Church,” Haft said.

Indeed, the honorees have generally devoted a lifetime to church service. They come from parishes as large as the diocesan cathedral and as small as St. William in Ward. The honoree from Ward, Sir Wallace A. Rodgers, accepted his knighthood in the name of the parishioners from St. William.

“We’ve had a long and trying history and this (honor) is a tribute to them,” he said.

Sir Thomas W. Mahan, now retired in the Blue Ridge mountains, was the 1989 Governor’s Professor of the Year — a statewide award — and was the recipient of many other professional and volunteer awards during his long career in higher education. None but one could hold a candle to his papal knighthood.

“Except for my wife saying yes to marrying me, this is the greatest honor I have ever received,” Mahan said.

Joseph B. Smith, the senior warden at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, rejoiced with his brother Daniel on the occasion of his papal honor, and even though Daniel is his younger sibling: “We’re so proud of him that I won’t mind calling him Sir Daniel.”

Msgr. J. Donald Gorski was elevated to that honorary title by being named as a Prelate of Honor of His Holiness by Pope John Paul II. Msgr. Gorski is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston who is a missionary in Los Zorritos Parish in Peru. The new monsignor was busy with his missionary work and was honored by the large cathedral crowd in absentia. Bishop Thompson said, “Won’t purple look good in Peru!”

Sister Rosemary Boyd was sick; the superior general of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, Sister Anne Francis Campbell, accepted the papal medal in her stead.

Esther H. Tecklenburg, Sister Maigread Conway, Sister Rosemary Boyd, Rt. Rev. Francis Kline and Joanne M. Comar were awarded the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (For the Church and Pontiff) medal. Tecklenburg of Charleston has been active in church and civic affairs for decades; Sister Maigread is a Franciscan who operates Neighborhood House in Charleston and has worked in outreach ministry since the 1960s; Sister Rosemary retired following the 1996-97 academic year as principal of Mary, Help of Christians School in Aiken after a long career in Catholic education; Comar is a resident of Mount Pleasant and a long-time Tribunal and diocesan employee who is also a correspondent with The New Catholic Miscellany; Father Kline is abbot of Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monk who is head of the diocesan Office of Prayer and Worship, a member of the diocesan Commission for Divine Worship and Sacraments, a world-class organist and a renown preacher and theologian.

The new Knight Commanders of the Order of St. Gregory the Great are: Jamile J. Francis of Greenville, Joseph P. Griffith of Charleston, Norman A. Haft of Charleston, Thomas W. Mahan of Brevard, NC, Wyatt B. Pringle of Beaufort, Wallace A. Rodgers of Ward and Daniel M. Smith of North Augusta.

Elizabeth S. Griffith was named a Dame of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.

PHOTO: Joanne Comar receives her papal honor from Bishop David B. Thompson. She was one of 14 people honored. (Photo by Paul A. Barra)