On Sunday, May 6, you will bestow the Order of St. Louis Award on 247 people who have volunteered their service in parishes and ministries across the archdiocese. How special is this award?
It is very special. Archbishop Hannan began giving out the award in 1975 as a way of saying thanks to the unsung heroes in parishes – the lay volunteers who give so much of themselves to help a parish fulfill its mission of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s very interesting that Archbishop Hannan began the award in part because he was so pleased with the work of the Second Vatican Council, which made it very clear in “Lumen Gentium” that through our baptism and confirmation, all Catholics, not just those who are ordained or who serve as consecrated religious, play a vital role as part of the body of Christ. In Chapter 4, “Lumen Gentium” says the laity are called as “living members” of the body of Christ “to expend all their energy for the growth of the Church and its continuous sanctification, since this very energy is a gift of the Creator and a blessing of the Redeemer” (33). That passage continues: “The lay apostolate … is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation, all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God and others which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layperson, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church.”
In a way, the work of lay people in parishes is an important part of the priorities developed by the archdiocesan synod.
Yes. The award definitely reflects our synod, which encourages the people of God to serve in lay ministry and also encourages parishes to prepare future leaders for the church, both ordained and lay.
Who was St. Louis King of France?
Louis IX (1214-1270) is the patron saint of our archdiocese and our cathedral. He was a lay person who was married with nine children. He lived out his vocation as a father and a husband. In his role as king of France, he lived a life that truly reflected Christian leadership. He did his very best during his reign as king to enable the laws of France to reflect the values of Jesus Christ that we see in the Gospels. His writings show his paternal care for his children. He called his eldest son to be a man of prayer and to lead with the heart of Christ.
How do people react when they learn they are going to receive the St. Louis Medallion?
In the last few weeks as I’ve been in various parishes, people very often come up to me and say, “I received your letter. Are you sure you sent it to the right person?” And I always say, “Yes, I am quite sure we sent it to the right person.” In my mind, the very fact that they would not see themselves as deserving is a clear indication that they are humble and very deserving. They cherish the award because it is an acknowledgment not only from their parish but also from the archdiocese that they are seen by many as servant leaders. In order for the church to become who she is called to be, we need servant leaders. Sometimes people think the leaders are just the priests, the religious women and men or the bishop, but we as leaders could not fulfill our ministry or our pastoral responsibilities without the participation by laity in ministry. Vatican II calls it the lay apostolate, and these people share in that apostolate. St. Teresa of Calcutta says we are called to live our ordinary lives with extraordinary love for God and for others. These St. Louis Award recipients have done that. In the midst of their ordinary lives, they have shown extraordinary love for God and his church.
Is this another chance for you to explain the importance of parish life through the lens of the synod?
Yes. I’m delighted the synod places a real focus on parish life, and the Order of St. Louis is another reminder that the real ministry of the church takes place daily at the parish level and through other ministries and organizations throughout the archdiocese. On the archdiocesan level, we are here to support those who are in the parishes. We are called to be a resource to them.
What effect does the faith life of parish lay leaders who receive the award have on you?
Very often when I learn what so many of the recipients have done and hear about their faith life, I am very much inspired. They help me to live my faith more generously and more fully.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.