Highest Award Bestowed at States Dinner
The selfless charity and intrepid spirit of a congregation of religious sisters were recognized at the States Dinner as the Knights of Columbus bestowed its highest honor, the Gaudium et Spes Award, on the Little Sisters of the Poor.
The keynote address at the dinner was delivered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican, who is archbishop emeritus of Quebec. The cardinal praised the Knights of Columbus for its practical works of charity performed not just “for the poor, but with the poor.” He said that Knights throughout the Order are fulfilling the vision of Pope Francis by going to the peripheries to aid those most in need.
Cardinal Ouellet also cited the leadership of Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, who, he said, has provided for the spiritual renewal and charitable expansion of the worldwide Order.
Held Aug. 2, on the evening of the first day of the Supreme Convention in Toronto, the annual States Dinner was attended by many members of the Church’s hierarchy and other clergy, and by more than 2,000 Knights and their family members.
The Little Sisters of the Poor were chosen as the 12th recipient of the prestigious Gaudium et Spes Award for their witness to the Gospel in caring for the elderly poor, and for standing up in recent years for religious liberty against a U.S. government mandate that would require them to violate their consciences. Founded in France by St. Jeanne Jugan, the congregation operates 27 homes for the sick and dying in the United States.
In challenging the government mandate that would force the sisters to provide contraception and abortion-causing drugs in health plans for their employees, the Little Sisters “insisted that our Catholic faith cannot be divided or compartmentalized,” said Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori, who read the citation for the award. “The teachings of the faith they cherish are based on the love they have for God and the poor whom they serve each day.”
He continued, “These sisters could no more comply with coercive government mandates than they could abandon the poor, the elderly and the dying.”
Accepting the award on behalf of the congregation, Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Baltimore Province, said that the sisters never would have chosen to be witnesses for religious liberty by challenging a government mandate. But the sisters knew that they had to stand up in order to continue their care for the poor, the sick and elderly with a clear conscience, she stated.
Through three years of court battles, she noted, the congregation has been supported by prayers, good wishes and legal expertise, including assistance from the Knights of Columbus. Looking out at the thousands of supporters at the dinner provided her with “a glimpse of the heavenly banquet,” she said.
The inaugural Gaudium et Spes Award was given in 1992 to Mother Teresa of Kolkata. It includes a medal and a $100,000 honorarium. This year was the first time that the award was bestowed upon a religious community rather than an individual.
The dinner program also included an invocation by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and greetings from Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto.