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Little Sisters of the Poor Honored

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Congregation receives Knights of Columbus’ Highest Award for standing up for ‘religious liberty of all’

At the 134th Supreme Convention, the Knights of Columbus awarded its highest honor to the Little Sisters of the Poor for their example of Christian service to the poor and dying, and for their continued commitment to their Catholic beliefs even in the face of strong government pressure.

The Gaudium et Spes Award was presented Tuesday evening, Aug. 2, at the convention’s States Dinner. Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson presented the award to Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, the order’s mother provincial in Baltimore.

Earlier on Tuesday, during his annual report to the 2,000-plus convention attendees, Supreme Knight Anderson noted: “Today, the sisters are still helping the poor, the sick and the dying. They are still doing incredible work in their communities, and they are still doing all of this without violating their conscience.”

Founded in 1852 to serve the elderly poor, the Sisters are a truly “inspiring community of religious sisters for their wholehearted response to the Gospel, [and] for recognizing Jesus in the face of the poor,” noted the award citation, read by Knights’ Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.

The Little Sisters became a household name when they were ordered — as part of Obamacare — to sign a form that would have triggered contraception, sterilization and abortifacient coverage in their employee health plan. They stood firm in their refusal to do so, appealing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Knights also filed a brief on their behalf and helped fund the attorneys from the Becket Fund who defended them. The decision was widely seen as favorable to the Little Sisters.

Shortly before the decision was handed down, a Marist Poll conducted for the Knights of Columbus found that by a wide margin, most Americans (53 to 32 percent) said the process demanded by the government’s “accommodation” was “unfair” to the Little Sisters.

While in Washington, D.C., last year, Pope Francis visited the Little Sisters to show his support to the community. He later wrote: “Precisely for the sake of this dignity of conscience, the Church strongly rejects the forced state intervention in favor of contraception, sterilization, and even abortion.”

Named for the landmark Second Vatican Council document, the Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) Award is the highest honor bestowed by the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal benefit organization, which has over 1.9 million members. Awarded only in special circumstances to individuals of exceptional merit, the first recipient was Blessed Mother Teresa in 1992, and the last recipient was the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago in 2015.