Staff Members of North Jersey Parish Receive Francis Medals

HNP Communications Around the Province

POMPTON LAKES, N.J. — In one of his last activities before leaving St. Mary’s Church, pastor Kevin Downey, OFM, honored five staff members of the church and school with the Francis Medal.

Given to lay people who embody the spirit of St. Francis in parish life, Kevin gave four of the five medals on his last Sunday in Pompton Lakes on June 26. “They all have worked and have been on the staff of St. Mary’s for more than 35 years,” he said.

Earlier in the month, teacher Carol Porada received her medal during the June 6 graduation Mass for St. Mary’s School. She retired after teaching language arts for 28 years. Porada was very well respected by parents and loved by students, and over the years had been honored as an outstanding educator, according to Kevin. “She will be greatly missed.”

Alma Banta, director of Religious Education and Family Liturgy, was honored on June 26. “There is no one at St. Mary’s who is more loved and known than Alma,” said Kevin. “She has literally touched the lives of every family in the parish as she educated their children and prepared them to receive their First Communion and Reconciliation.” She was also instrumental in establishing the church’s Special Needs Ministry.

Joe Connolly, a liturgical consultant and drum-playing member of the music ministry, has known Kevin since 1973, when the two were affiliates, or postulants, at Holy Cross Church in the Bronx, a former Franciscan parish. ”Joe didn’t continue into the novitiate but continued his passion for the friars and serving the Lord. St. Mary’s has always been known for her liturgies and music. Joe has made this possible. He has had a profound influence on the parish and has done this in a very quiet and invisible way,” Kevin said. 

As parish secretary, Claire Fagan knows all the church secrets, according to Kevin. “If you want to know anything, all you have to do is ask Claire. She is the voice of the parish because she is the person on the staff who deals with everyone who calls with a question, wants to schedule a wedding, baptism, or a funeral, reserve a room for a meeting, has a complaint, or wants to know how to get an appointment with the pastor.”

Mary Ellen Leibla received a medal for production of the bulletin and other written pieces each week. “Nothing printed goes out that doesn’t have Mary Ellen’s stamp of approval,” said Kevin. ”In my nine years as pastor, Mary Ellen typed and edited all my Pastor’s Desk columns. I found myself looking forward to reading the bulletin to see how much she changed what I wrote and how good she made me look.” She also helped in the church’s fundraising and human resource responsibilities.

In his last Pastor’s Desk column, Kevin said this medal is “the highest honor Holy Name Province bestows on someone who embraces the spirit of St. Francis and who has contributed significantly to building the Kingdom of God.”

— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.