Jennifer Neville, Special to The Catholic Virginian
They are the unsung heroes.
They work quietly behind the scenes to make their parishes vibrant.
They don’t seek the limelight, but the spotlight was on them at the ninth annual Servant Leadership Award Dinner at St. Patrick School, Norfolk, Saturday, April 21. The eighth-grade class honored people from the core parishes the school serves in Norfolk: Dan Doyle, Sacred Heart; Sheila Jenkins, Blessed Sacrament; and Judy Watford, Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
Nearly 200 people came to pay tribute to the honorees. The 38 eighth-graders, servers for the evening, will use the approximately $2,000 raised through dinner tickets and tips to purchase the 11th outdoor Station of the Cross for the school, which will be designed by one of the students.
The eighth-graders determined the characteristics of a good servant leader, and sent the list to the pastors of the three parishes with a request for nominations. Some of the 19 traits they decided upon are being faithful, selfless, hardworking, dedicated, kind, empathetic and humble.
Father Joseph Metzger III, pastor of Blessed Sacrament, compared Jenkins to the wind because, he said, even though one may not see her serving, she is always present, and one can feel the effects of what she’s done.
Jenkins’ volunteering includes baking casseroles for the basilica’s soup kitchen and helping with the Veterans Day pancake breakfast and spaghetti dinner. She is also a lector and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion for the homebound.
Jenkins volunteered as the interim youth coordinator for a month in early 2017 when the parish was without one, and she continues to be a catechist for high school religious formation and confirmation. She called her involvement “spiritual maternity,” explaining teens need adults to guide them.
“They don’t always understand that they need God; however, the grace of the Holy Spirit can help them get through the difficult situations they encounter as teenagers,” she said.
Jenkins prays for the youth and coordinates St. Michael Hotline — an email group through which individuals pray for youth and young adults who are at risk of physical or spiritual harm, including those who are sick, mentally ill or dealing with strife such as parents getting divorced.
Doyle is president of the parish pastoral council at Sacred Heart, warden of Knights of Columbus Council 367, and helps coordinate the men’s group, “That Man is You.” His parish volunteer work includes helping with Shrove Tuesday and fundraisers, giving teens rides to and from youth ministry events and helping coordinate the parish picnic.
He said that as he answers the Holy Spirit’s call to be involved, he is trying to be a role model for his three daughters, ages 16, 17 and 19.
“It’s a ‘do as I do’ kind of thing,” he said “I believe active involvement is the way to live your faith.”
Amy Woods, director of religious education and youth minister, described Doyle as having “a big heart and generous soul.”
“He is always willing to pitch in, take the lead and help out whenever necessary,” she said.
Watford is involved in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in a myriad of ways.
She prepares snacks and meals for church events and meetings, prepares meals once a month for seniors at the parish and for residents in Tidewater Gardens, a low-income housing project near the basilica. She also visits church members and others in the hospital and rehabilitation centers.
Watford can be found most weekdays in the basilica’s soup kitchen which feeds 300 homeless and financially disadvantaged people a hot, nutritious meal four times a week. Her volunteer time includes setting up and cleaning up the dining room and preparing and serving meals.
Father James Curran, the basilica’s rector, said Watford is “the face of Jesus” to the guests. Regardless of the condition of a guest, whether clean or dirty, smelling fine or smelling foul, Father Curran said Watford serves them the way Jesus would love and serve them. He added that as she feeds them physically, she also feeds them spiritually.
“She is nourishing in every respect,” Father Curran said. “She shows Jesus to them.”
Watford said she is blessed to serve and “give back to the community.”
“The Lord just put in my heart to care for other people less fortunate than me. I do it because I enjoy doing it,” she said, adding, “Once you start serving other people, you will be amazed what God does for you.”