Father John Riccardo and Joe LaRussa honored with first Catholic Apostolic Awards

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Catholic Apostolic awards
Joe LaRussa gives his acceptance speech. Courtesy of The Evangelical Catholic

Father John Riccardo and Joe LaRussa were honored with the Avery Cardinal Dulles Award for Apostolic Activity on Jan. 26. The Evangelical Catholic presented these awards at their Jan. 24-26 Priests for an Apostolic Age conference, co-sponsored by Our Sunday Visitor.

The Church’s ultimate mission, given by Jesus in the Great Commission, is to make disciples in the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word either to unbelievers … or the faithful” (No. 905). This can be thought of in two dimensions of activity: ad intra activity which is directed within the Church, and ad extra activity which is our mission of making disciples in the secular world. This award honored an exemplary Catholic leader in each of these dimensions who is engaged in apostolic mission.

Joe LaRussa received the ad extra award. After building and selling a successful business in San Diego, he now works for Convene as an executive coach for business owners and CEOs. In this role with Convene, Joe coaches business leaders to witness to Jesus in their companies. He shows them how to fill every aspect of their business with the light of Jesus and share the Good News in appropriate ways when they have opportunity.

Joe’s secular apostolic activity goes beyond his profession. He leads Cursillo retreats and men’s groups to make more disciples of Jesus. He sees every encounter with men as a chance to deepen friendship, foster vulnerability and regularly accompany them into the abundant life of Jesus.

Joe’s ad extra apostolic activity teaches us that God doesn’t usually want us to make our relationships uncomfortable for the sake of the Gospel. Rather, he calls us to slowly foster trust, get to know our friends deeply, share vulnerably about life’s struggles and speak timely words about how Jesus is Good News for us in these particular struggles. Deep relationships help Joe understand which of his own personal stories about Jesus to share.

Joe has experienced Jesus’ forgiveness, peace, comfort, hope, security and friendship at different points in his life. Only by deeply understanding his friends and colleagues can he know which aspect of Jesus someone needs to hear about. He waits and prays patiently for the Holy Spirit to deepen relationships, to show him the right time and give him the right words to share so the Good News can truly be good news to the people he loves and respects. Joe delights to have so many opportunities to accompany people closer to Jesus as the Holy Spirit works on their hearts.

Catholic Apostolic Awards
Father John Riccardo giving his acceptance speech. Courtesy of The Evangelical Catholic

The winner of the ad intra award was Father John Riccardo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Father Riccardo is passionate about the Church’s mission to make disciples in the secular world. He sees many obstacles for the Church to overcome so that we can send more disciple-makers like Joe into the world. His particular ad intra passion is to equip bishops and priests to lead laypeople more effectively into the beauty of discipleship so they can be vibrant witnesses of Jesus’ abundant life in the world.

In 2019, after 23 years in very fruitful parish ministry, Father Riccardo felt moved by the Holy Spirit to do more to inspire and equip Church leaders for the Great Commission. With the blessing of Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit, he started Acts XXIX. Since its inception, Acts XXIX has led retreats and consultations for more than 2,500 priests in 20 U.S. dioceses, launched multiple podcasts and developed Rescued, a free resource to help parishes proclaim the Good News of Jesus to their communities.

In his award address, Father Riccardo emphasized the need for priests to: 1) prioritize the proclamation of the Good News to their people, 2) form their ministry team to be more than a “staff,” and 3) commit to prayerfully wait on the Lord’s direction for pastoral initiatives. He loves equipping priests to be joyful and fruitful in their ministry by adopting these priorities. He is filled with hope as he and his team see thousands of priests around the country eager to be humble, prayerful, resolute leaders of apostolic movements in their communities.

You can watch the award speeches, along with the other talks, from the Priests for an Apostolic Age conference by clicking here. Other passionate talks on the Church’s apostolic mission were given by Msgr. James Shea, Curtis Martin, Dave Durand and a host of other inspiring speakers.

Jason Simon is president of The Evangelical Catholic.