Felician Sisters receive Lumen Christi award

KINGSTREE—Catholic Extension has acknowledged the dedication of the Felician Sisters to helping people in their community with national recognition — the 35th annual Lumen Christi Award.

The award, which means Light of Christ, was established by the Chicago-based fundraising organization as a way to honor a priest, religious or lay person who has demonstrated how the power of faith can transform lives and communities. It was announced in a press release Aug. 22.

Catholic Extension chooses recipients who have devoted their lives to serving the poor in the most under-resourced dioceses in the United States and to fostering Catholic communities that build faith, inspire hope and ignite change, according to the release. The Felician Sisters will receive the award at a ceremony on Sept. 12 in Kingstree and will be honored at a Mass and reception at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 13.

Sisters Mary Susanne Dziedzic, Mary Johnna Ciezobka, and Mary Jacqueline Benbenek were nominated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.

“These religious women have worked tirelessly to bring the love and mercy of Christ to some of the most disadvantaged and economically challenged people in our part of the country,” Bishop Guglielmone wrote in his nomination letter.

The Felician sisters will receive a $50,000 grant to be shared equally with the Diocese of Charleston. They plan to expand the services they offer at St. Ann Catholic Outreach Center and {vimeo}48049446{/vimeo} also bring a fourth sister into their ministry, the release stated.

“We made a pact when we first moved here that we would be present to the people, that it would be our main ministry. We will be present to the neighbors, we will be present to the church,” Sister Johnna said.

St. Ann Catholic Outreach is located on Thorne Avenue, a road that runs through much of the town. The neighborhood, which historically has been known as a dangerous and disadvantaged part of Kingstree, is where they planted roots and built their ministry. From virtually nothing, the religious women launched an after-school tutoring program, food pantry, clothing closet, meal program, cooking classes and religious education to serve people in need.

In 20 years, their ministry has grown and expanded into several buildings that line the street and serve several hundreds of people each month.

Even though Catholics are a minority in Kingstree, the Felician Sisters know no boundaries. They give witness to the faith in all aspects of their ministry while building relationships with local residents of all churches who wanted to get involved and help unify the community. By connecting people from both sides of the railroad track that runs through Kingstree and acts as a boundary between the prosperous and the poor — they helped build a community of ecumenism. Eleven different Christian denominations now participate in the ministry and over 60 volunteers work with the sisters to serve people.

“The Felician Sisters of Kingstree are truly the Light of Christ to others in their community,” said Father Jack Wall, Catholic Extension president. “It is their unwavering faith that provides a light to their path, guiding them in their work and inspiring them to continually share that faith. We are honored to present the Lumen Christi Award to Sisters Susanne, Johnna and Jacqueline—they are examples to all of us of how ministry to others can transform hearts, lives and society.”

The Felician Sisters of Kingstree are radiating the Light of Christ in the very same county as the first Lumen Christi Award recipient. Thirty-five years ago Florence Kaster led the way with unrelenting service to the poor in the rural areas of Williamsburg County, bringing them the Light of Christ in an era when racial tension was high even though her ministry was not looked upon favorably by her Christian peers. The community has come a long way since then, but there is still need.

“In the early days, we had so little and what little we had, we shared and we gave,” said Sister Johnna. “Now, God has blessed us with this wonderful Lumen Christi Award. The money is greatly needed, but the Light of Christ really touches us. God always comes through with blessings for us and that’s the way we’ve learned to live. We’re depending on God — and that’s what people around here do.”

Ricky Burrows, mayor of Kingstree said the Felicians have inspired the community and are an “an asset to Williamsburg County and Kingstree.

“Without their work, I don’t know what this section of town would have been like if they had not been here,” he said.

Photos provided by Catholic Extension