Around Articles Columns Editorial Hispanic Apostolate Letters Opportunities Profile ShorTakes

May 13, 2013 | Volume 88, Number 14


pro ecclesia et pontifice award medalPro Ecclesia et Pontifice

T he Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Latin: For the Church and the Pope) medal is an award of the Roman Catholic Church. It is also known as the “Cross of Honour.”

The medal was established by Pope Leo XIII on July 17, 1888, to commemorate his golden jubilee and was originally bestowed on those men and women who had aided and promoted the jubilee, and by other means assisted in making the jubilee and the Vatican Exposition successful.

It is the highest medal that can be awarded to the laity by the Papacy.

The current version is awarded only in gold. The obverse depicts the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul. On the left arm of the cross is the inscription Pro Ecclesia (For Church), on the right arm of the cross is Et Pontifice (And Pope).


photo: Joseph Thanh van Bui
Joseph Thanh van Bui

Joseph Thanh van Bui

Joseph Thanh van Bui, 72 has served his parish, Our Lady of Vietnam in Hampton, in a variety of capacities over the past 20 years.

Mr. Bui has been a catechist for teenagers preparing for Confirmation, for engaged couples preparing for marriage and for Catholics who are returning to their faith.

He also serves as a Eucharistic minister and a sacristan at the parish, and he is in the Knights of Columbus at St. Rose of Lima, also in Hampton.

Mr. Bui said God’s love is what motivates him to be active in his faith.

“I love God. I love the church and the people, and I want many people to go to heaven,” he said. “As far as God’s love, it is abundant and it’s a way to repay what God has given me.”

Originally from North Vietnam, Mr. Bui fled to South Vietnam in 1954. He served as an officer in the army there but was captured and imprisoned in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

He made several attempts to escape over the years, and during one of those attempts, one of his sons died. In 1989, he successfully made it by boat to Thailand where he lived in a refugee camp for three years.

In 1992, he immigrated to California, and in 1993, he moved to Hampton where he now lives with his wife Tuyet Pham. The couple had seven children in all, including another son who died in a car accident on the way home from a diocesan event. He has five daughters, all adults now, and eight grandchildren.

Mr. Bui is retired but works part-time at Cataline Cylinder, a company that makes high-pressure, aluminum gas cylinders.


photo: Kevin and Marge Chamberlin
Kevin and Marge Chamberlin

Kevin and Marge Chamberlin

Kevin and Marge Chamberlin, members of Holy Cross Parish in Lynchburg for almost 43 years, were surprised when they received Bishop DiLorenzo’s letter notifying them they were to be recipients of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal. In fact, they had never heard of the honor.

“We Googled it and when we learned about it, I said, ‘this is way above our pay grade,’” said Mr. Chamberlin, chairman of the Holy Cross building committee and a member of that body since 1983 when the parish began its first major renovation. He and Mrs. Chamberlin have long served at various times on the parish pastoral council. Mrs. Chamberlin is chair of the pastoral care committee which helps parishioners in times of need, such as illness or funerals.

“We’re just doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” she said.

The couple met when both were students at Catholic colleges in Cullman, Ala. (he at St. Bernard College and she at Sacred Heart College). He was originally from Chattanooga, Tenn., and she grew up in Stoney Brook, Long Island, N.Y., where her father was a potato farmer.

Upon getting married in 1970, they came to Lynchburg when Mr. Chamberlin was hired as a Latin teacher. They planned to stay only two years, “but we loved it so much that we decided to stay,” Mrs. Chamberlin said.

They have seven adult children and nine grandchildren. Mr. Chamberlin is a cabinetmaker, and Mrs. Chamberlin is a nurse.

“You leave your family and your wife leaves her family and when you move, you find a new family — your church and you participate,” Mr. Chamberlin said.

Asked how they became so heavily involved, Mrs. Chamberlin replied, “We’ve had some very enabling pastors who’ve encouraged us to start things and carry them through.”


photo: Joan Congable-Mackay
Joan Congable-Mackay

Joan Congable-Mackay

Joan Congable-Mackay, of St. Edward Parish in Richmond, is being honored for her many years as volunteer coordinator of Outreach in Love, a multi-parish ministry which began as religious education for children with disabilities.

Participants now include adults who initially entered the program as children but asked to continue because they like the welcoming community which provides a support group.

“I was totally dumbfounded when I got the letter from the Bishop (naming her for the papal honor),” Ms. Congable-Mackay told The Catholic Virginian. “My son, John, then on a business trip to Australia, told me that it is the highest honor the laity can get from the Church.”

In her association with Outreach in Love, initially she was asked to coordinate the ministry by an advisory group of DREs who needed two teachers.

“I said I don’t know how to do this, but they said, ‘yeah, you do.’

“I wasn’t reluctant to teach, but I was nervous,” she continued. “After the first night of class, I left in such awe of the parents. I think that’s what keeps me going.

“The parents are there for their kids 24-7 and there’s such joy in their hearts. The participants are also joy-filled. They’re accepting and they rely on God so much.

“They teach me humility, trust and faith and how to live totally.

“It made me look at all the roses and the thorns who made me who I am. I believe God puts us on this earth to help each other. If we can’t help each other, how can we expect God to help us?”

Originally from New York, Ms. Congable-Mackay has four children and three grandchildren as well as her parents who are in their late 80s.

She is development secretary for St. Joseph’s Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor. She previously worked at St. Benedict Parish and St. Edward Church.

She fondly recalls the advice Bishop DiLorenzo gave her when he came to celebrate the opening Mass for Outreach in Love after she expressed her concern that she was not totally qualified for the ministry: “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”


photo: Jim and Sandy Dyk
Jim and Sandy Dyk

Jim and Sandy Dyk

Jim and Sandy Dyk, members of St. Michael Parish in Glen Allen, have long been involved in the Engaged Encounter weekend, a program which prepares Catholic or ecumenical engaged couples to prepare for the sacrament of marriage.

“When we were married 16 years, we went on a Marriage Encounter weekend,” Mrs. Dyk said, pointing out that they had been married in 1966 at her home parish in Roebling, N.J. Two years later they were invited to sit in on and observe the Engaged Encounter program while they were living in Wichita, Kansas.

“We both agreed that this was a ministry we could do together,” Dr. Dyk, a retired educator, said.

They got involved in Wichita, then were active with the program when they moved to Salt Lake City, and again when they moved to Richmond in 1989.

“No matter where you go, Engaged Encounter is a national program and you have an instant community in which we all share the same values,” Mrs. Dyk said.

“We have met many couples who are role models for us, some of them older and some are younger,” Mrs. Dyk said.

The Dyk’s had never heard of the Pro Ecclesia award when they received Bishop DiLorenzo’s letter that they were to be recipients of it. They went to Google and looked it up.

When they discovered its meaning, they admit they both felt surprised and then humbled by the honor. They also felt the sense of “owing” other people they feel are worthy of the same honor.

“We think of the incredible people that you feel you owe or the people you admire or are inspired by who would certainly deserve some honor like this,” Dr. Dyk said.

The Dyk’s have two adult children — a son and a daughter — and three grandchildren.


photo: Maria Garcia-Lara
Maria Garcia-Lara

Maria Garcia-Lara

Maria Garcia-Lara, of St. John Parish in Highland Springs, has been involved with the diocese’s Hispanic community and in her parish as a catechist for about 10 years. She was active in starting and promoting the Segura Initiative which provides scholarships for Hispanic children in the diocese’s Catholic schools.

Born in Mexico, she came to the United States with her parents at age nine and lived originally in Azusa, Calf., before moving to Roanoke 25 years ago and then settling in Richmond 23 years ago. She is CEO of Mexico Restaurants, which has seven outlets in the Richmond area.

She and her husband, Javier, are parents of two daughters and a son, all three of whom attend Our Lady of Lourdes School. Her two daughters are already enrolled and her son will start in August.

“The Segura Initiative is important to me because the Catholic schools in our diocese have a 100 percent graduation rate,” she said. “I wanted to give the opportunity to our Hispanic kids to form them, not only academically, but in their faith.

“I believe by enabling them to attend our Catholic schools, we give them the tools to succeed in life.”

She and her husband, Javier, help prepare engaged couples in marriage preparation at St. John’s and also conduct baptism classes in Spanish for parents. She is also a catechist in St. John’s Confirmation program which has 11 Confirmands, eight of whom are Hispanic.

“We largely teach by our actions,” Mrs. Garcia-Lara said. “I want to teach that to my children and keep them actively involved in school and at church.”

She is humbled by the honor of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award.

“I still get emotional about it just thinking about it,” she told The Catholic Virginian as her eyes filled with tears. “It makes me want to keep doing what I’m doing and do it even better.”


photo: Nina and Robert Keeley
Nina and Robert Keeley

Dr. Robert Keeley

In his marriage, family, profession and his Roanoke community, Dr. Robert Keeley (shown here with his wife, Nina) has been a strong influence, especially through his commitment to God and his church.

The semi-retired thoracic and vascular surgeon is a Roanoke native and lifelong member of Our Lady of Nazareth Parish.

Dr. Keeley and his wife have been married 63 years, have 15 children.

“We wanted 12, but we got three more,” Mrs. Keeley recalled with a smile. They also now have 31 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

All the Keeley children were educated at Roanoke Catholic School. An ardent advocate of Catholic education, Dr. Keeley himself is a graduate of what was then Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic School in Roanoke.

He remembered Sister James Leo as an inspiring and influential teacher who taught him a number of subjects as well as how to play volleyball. She instilled an interest in learning, discipline and faith in her students, he said, adding, “I thought that background was important in my life and it would be important in my children’s life.”

Indeed, the Keeley children all have remained Catholic and have done well by their education in a wide range of vocations.

The Keeleys met while he was training in surgery at Duke University Medical School and she was a nurse. Shortly after they married, Dr. Keeley, who previously had served in the Navy during World War II, was called back to active military duty in Korea where he was assigned to a M.A.S.H. unit with the Marines.

While he was overseas, Nina Keeley, who had grown up Baptist, “surprised him” by making her profession of faith in the Catholic Church. Although upon their marriage she had agreed to bring up their children in the Catholic faith, it was her husband’s strong faith that influenced her decision to join his church herself, she said.

Although he no longer performs surgery, the 91-year-old Dr. Keeley continues to work part-time in disability determination for the Social Security Administration. He also serves as medical liaison for the Carilion Health System’s board of directors.

He has served on Roanoke Catholic School’s Home and School Association board for 20 years and is a member of the board of the diocese’s McMahon Parater Foundation where he continues to help raise funds and support Catholic education.

Apparently, the adage that the family that prays together stays together holds true for the Keeleys. Son David recalled that even when his father was working at the hospital, all the children gathered around their parents’ bed, every night without fail, to pray together.


photo: Charles V. (Chuck) McPhillips
Charles V. (Chuck) McPhillips

Charles V. McPhillips

Charles V. (Chuck) McPhillips, a Norfolk attorney with Kaufman & Canoles, P.C., is chairman of the diocese’s McMahon Parater Foundation, which thus far has raised a $6.2 million endowment to provide tuition assistance for families attending Catholic schools.

As chairman of the James Barry-Robinson Trust, he served as founding chairman and is still a board member of Saint Patrick Catholic School. In October 2012 he received the Bishop’s Humanitarian Award from Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia.

When not working on Church-related causes, Mr. McPhillips serves in his law firm’s senior management, as Vice Chairman of the Hampden-Sydney College Board of Trustees, and as incoming President of Greater Norfolk Corporation and The Norfolk Forum.

Despite his various professional and civic commitments, Mr. McPhillips says he will continue to focus on the future of Catholic schools.

“It brings an amazing amount of joy to my life because of what these schools mean to the future of our Catholic faith community,” he said.

“Thanks to the generosity of so many good people, we have arrested the long-term decline in enrollment and we are actually starting to increase the enrollment.”

Citing data reported by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, he is driven by the belief that Catholic school graduates are generally more active in the life of the Church as adults; more inclined to embrace prayer in their lives; more likely to hold pro-life beliefs; and more open to the possibility of religious vocations.

“If these are the facts — and I believe they are — then we really have no choice but to support Catholic education,” Mr. McPhillips said. “We must rise to this historic challenge to preserve and strengthen the greatest educational tradition in this country – our Catholic schools.”

Mr. McPhillips and his wife, Theresa, are members of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Norfolk.


photo: Karen Paige Womack
Karen Paige Womack

Karen Paige Womack

Karen Paige Womack, 64, has been a lifelong parishioner of what is now the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk.

She is a retired teacher, having worked in Norfolk and Virginia Beach schools for over 25 years. She has two grown children, John Paige, 41, and Ashley Womack, 29.

Ms. Womack started a Rosary prayer group which meets weekly to pray, read scripture and share their faith. Members of the group put their faith into action by vising the sick and shut-in individuals in the area. She also has volunteered at the parish soup kitchen on and off for the past 35 years and she has been its food-service manager since 2010.

Additionally, she serves as lector and Eucharistic minister.

“I do whatever they want to put on me. I am always willing to be a servant of God,” she said.

Serving in the soup kitchen, which feeds an average of 147 people four times a week, has deepened her faith.

“Doing this work definitely opens my eyes to God’s blessings for things I have taken for granted,” she said. “Each person who comes through those doors is a replica of Christ.”

Ms. Womack said “God’s love” has fueled her desire to serve others.

“I hope with this honor I will be strengthened and continue to have courage to practice not only what I profess but to live it so others will know I truly love the Lord.”

back to top »