Meet Our Sunday Visitor’s 2020 Catholics of the Year

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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus a global pandemic, and since then, the world — and the Church — has been turned upside down, as more than 1.5 million people have died from the virus, including nearly 300,000 in the United States.

While the pandemic cast a dark cloud over the year 2020, other storms rolled in. In May, the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis sparked monthslong protests demanding an end to brutality against Blacks by law enforcement officers. Throughout the year, a contentious presidential election drove a wedge further between an already divided country.

Despite unprecedented times, there were beacons of light that shone through the darkness — men and women whose witness of faith inspired the Body of Christ. We are pleased to honor them for their selfless service to the Church as Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholics of the Year for 2020.


Displaying faith, integrity and grace in the middle of a political storm

By Nicole Garnett
(CNS photo/Tom Brenner, Reuters)

During her recent confirmation hearings, Justice Amy Coney Barrett captured the hearts and earned the admiration of millions for her intellect, poise, fortitude, grace under incredible pressure and, of course, her beautiful family. I can say without hesitation that what we saw in her as a nominee is exactly what we will get in her as an associate justice of the United States.

I have known Justice Barrett for more than 20 years. We met as Supreme Court law clerks in 1998, and since 2002, she has been my neighbor and my colleague at Notre Dame Law School. During that time, I have come to know her as a lawyer, a law professor, a mother, our third child’s godmother and one of my closest friends, therefore I know that Justice Barrett brings much more than her keen intellect and brilliant legal mind to the court. She brings her compassion, her kindness, her humility and, yes, her faith.

Her faith was, of course, the subject of criticism during her confirmation battle, and many asked whether it would affect her work as a justice. As she has made steadfastly clear, her faith will not shape her work as a jurist because, as a judge, her duty is to say what the law is, not to opine about what it should be. But I am certain that her faith will, appropriately, shape who she is as a justice, just as it affects who she is as a person. She is the kind of person whom students know that they can turn to as a mentor, who brings a meal when a family welcomes a new baby, who comforts friends in crisis, who volunteers as room mother and parish council president, and who organizes the block party and neighborhood Easter egg hunt. And she is the kind of person who knows that the oath she took to uphold the Constitution is more than just words; it is a sacred promise to keep her word to God, no matter what the consequences. All of these reasons are why she is so deserving of being included among Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholics of the Year.

She is more than “just a justice”; she is an exceptional person, formed by her faith, and a model for all of us who are called to integrate our faith with our professional and family lives. God Bless Justice Barrett.

Nicole Garnett is a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School.


Caring for the souls of their flocks despite unprecedented challenges

By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
Father Michal Sajnog of Our Lady of the Wayside Parish in Chaptico, Md., gives Communion to a woman on Pentecost Sunday May 31, 2020, during the pandemic. (CNS photo/Andrew Biraj, Catholic Standard)

In the best of times, the priesthood is not an “easy” vocation. When new priests are ordained, they promise to care for the Lord’s flock. In the Rite of Ordination, they express their resolve to preach the Gospel and teach the Faith, to celebrate the sacraments faithfully and reverently, to pray for the people and to unite themselves daily to Christ the Priest and Victim, consecrating themselves to God for the salvation of all. The responsibility is great, and in a “normal” year, this calling is filled with unique challenges. But we know that this year has been anything but “normal.”

Parish priests especially have spent 2020 on the front lines of a pandemic that has affected everyone and that has changed so much about parish life, at least for right now. When we bishops made the difficult decisions to cancel public Masses in our dioceses, priests navigated the challenges of livestreaming and incorporating other digital technology into their ministries. To prevent the spread of the virus, priests were forced to find new, different and yet still safe ways to serve the People of God and to administer the sacraments to them. They have had to don personal protective equipment and respond to the needs of the sick and dying. Priests have had to coordinate parish sanitization efforts and ensure proper distancing and other safety protocols were implemented and maintained.

In this most difficult year, priests had to approach so many aspects of their ministry in different ways. Theirs was a monumental challenge, and they responded with tenacity, courage and grace. This is the type of commitment I have witnessed from the priests in my own Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and I know my brother bishops have had similar experiences across the country. For their agility, creativity and adaptability, and their commitment to minister to their people during this pandemic, especially risking their own health to administer the sacraments to COVID patients, parish priests are well-deserving Catholics of the Year.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades is bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.


A deep faith and commitment to charity link the Knights of Columbus’ past and present leaders

By Archbishop William E. Lori
Wikimedia Commons

As Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, I have worked closely with Supreme Knight Carl Anderson for more than 15 years. Repeatedly, I have witnessed in him the qualities of mind and heart that have made him a visionary and effective leader of the world’s largest lay Catholic organization. Chief among these are the depth of faith in Jesus Christ, his love of the Church, his missionary spirit, his commitment to charity, his strength of character, and his ability to lead a large and complex fraternal organization. Looking back on the Supreme Knight’s tenure, I can say without any hesitation that he has brilliantly exemplified the luminous virtues so evident in the life of the recently beatified Blessed Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights.

Carl Anderson
CNS photo/Tom Tracy

Like Father McGivney, Supreme Knight Anderson firmly anchors life and work in his encounter with Christ in faith and prayer. His profound respect for human life and his commitment to charity flow from his faith in the Incarnate Son of God who fully reveals the inviolable dignity of each person. As was true of Father McGivney, Supreme Knight Anderson’s every initiative aims at furthering the Church’s mission to evangelize, sanctify and serve. In the spirit of Father McGivney, Supreme Knight Anderson has extended Knights of Columbus charities to the marginalized, whether it is persecuted Christians in the Middle East or young people in the inner city in need of a warm coat. Following in Father McGivney’s footsteps, Supreme Knight Anderson has worked tirelessly to promote family life and to ensure that the Knights of Columbus helps Catholic men to live their faith as good husbands and fathers.

As the Church gives thanks for the beatification of Blessed Michael McGivney, so, too, let us give thanks to God for the wonderful example and leadership of Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson. Both of these distinguished Knights are well-deserving of being named among Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholics of the Year for the indelible mark each made on the Church this past year.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore is Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.


Educating all who would listen on the importance of racial justice

By Father Josh Johnson
Gloria Purvis
(CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

One of my favorite passages in the Sacred Scriptures to meditate on is the prayer of Jesus to his Father in John 17. All throughout the Gospels, Jesus went away to pray, but in this scene he invites us into his dialogue with his Father. In their conversation, Jesus prays that we may be one as he and the Father are one. Jesus expressed one of his deepest desires: unity in the Body of Christ.

Since Jesus longs for unity, it is obvious that the devil wants disunity in the Body of Christ. Satan has successfully fostered division in the American Catholic Church for hundreds of years through the sins of racism. Many people often ask me why there are so few Black Catholics in America, and my response is always the same: “How are there so many?” The division across the racial divide is certainly a very messy reality. It must break the heart of Jesus, who desires unity in the Church. However, Jesus has never been one to resist the mess. He chose to die between two thieves on a cross in Golgotha. Jesus is the same today as he was yesterday.

Rather than asking, “What would Jesus do?,” we ought to be asking, “What is Jesus doing?” In my observation, Jesus is entering into the mess of the racial divide through a very influential member of the Body of Christ in the American Catholic Church: Mrs. Gloria Purvis, a worthy recipient of the honor of being among this year’s Catholics of the Year.

Gloria Purvis has spent the better part of 2020 encouraging Black and Brown Catholics who have been excluded from their parishes, schools, dioceses and religious orders. She has also poured herself out to white Catholics in America, inviting them to listen, learn, pray, fast and act in communion with their Black and Brown brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ to address the systems of racism that are still operative in our Church and nation. Her work for racial reconciliation in the Body of Christ has been misunderstood by many. However, Gloria is not rooted in the acceptance of people and approval of man. She desires only to fulfill the heart of Jesus, and for this reason she continues to enter into the mess of racial reconciliation so that one day we all may be one in Christ, on earth as it is in heaven.

Father Josh Johnson is a priest of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


Maintaining his strong faith in the face of persecution

By Russell Shaw
(CNS photo/courtesy Archdiocese of Sydney)

Cardinal George Pell had spent 13 months in prison before the High Court of Australia in April unanimously overturned his conviction on a charge of abusing a choir boy two decades before. His moving “Prison Journal” (Ignatius Press, $19.95), the record of that ordeal, is one of the outstanding books of this or any other year.

Cardinal Pell had served as archbishop of Melbourne and archbishop of Sydney, and he was prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy when the case against him began. He voluntarily returned to Australia to clear his name, but despite eyewitness testimony refuting the charge, he was found guilty in a shocking miscarriage of justice by a jury apparently primed to be sympathetic to claims of victimhood. The verdict later was upheld 2-1 by a regional appeals court. But the 7-0 High Court decision recognizing the “significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted” finally set him free.

The “Prison Journal” makes it clear that, long before any charge against him, the cardinal was targeted by anti-Catholic secularist forces, including some in the media, eager to bring down a prominent defender of the Faith who was also an outspoken champion of traditional morality. Despite the injustice done to him, his journal shows him struggling — successfully — against bitterness toward his enemies while maintaining a lively interest in everything from theology to Australian cricket. His unshakeable faith during this time of persecution makes him one of Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholics of the Year.

The spirit of the man is suggested by one of the prayers he composed and includes in his book: “God our Father, give me strength to come through this, and may my suffering be united with your Son Jesus’ redemption for the spread of the Kingdom, the healing of all victims of this scourge of paedophilia, the faith and well-being of our Church, and especially for the wisdom and courage of the bishops, who have to lead us out of the dark shadows into the light of Christ.”

Russell Shaw is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.


Showing true leadership — to the Church and the world — during dark days

By Cindy Wooden
(CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis stood alone in a dark and rain-swept St. Peter’s Square 18 days after Italy imposed a strict nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus and, hopefully, ease the burden on hospitals and morgues.

I wanted to be in the square, but instead I was at home alone watching on television with millions of other people around the world.

Pope Francis had been livestreaming his early morning Mass each day since the lockdown began March 9, offering prayers for medical personnel, for the sick and for government leaders torn between the economic devastation of a lockdown and the actual devastation of allowing the pandemic to spread.

The simple Masses with his personal secretaries in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives, were homey and intimate; they seemed very much like any parish livestreaming a weekday Mass.

But when he walked into St. Peter’s Square on March 27 for an “extraordinary moment of prayer,” Pope Francis was less a parish priest and more a global leader.

He was not arguing about restrictions or promising quick solutions. He was articulating the world’s suffering.

The pope led millions in pleading with God for relief, as well as urging each and every person to act responsibly to prevent the spread of the disease and to begin building a future marked by more caring and sharing. Moving into the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica, he held high a monstrance, blessing the city and the world with Jesus in the Eucharist.

Prayer, responsible behavior and efforts to rethink the way the economy and social life function, particularly how they cast so many people into poverty and insignificance, have been the constants of Pope Francis’ leadership since COVID-19 officially was declared a pandemic in March. For his faithful leadership at such a crucial time in the life of the Church — and the world — Pope Francis is more than deserving of being among Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholics of the year.

Cindy Wooden is the Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service.


Courageously fighting for the right to live out their mission of service

By Montse Alvarado
Little Sisters of the Poor
Courtesy photo

The Little Sisters of the Poor are the kind of Catholic order of women religious you only hear about when you need them — when you are facing difficult times. Their mission to serve the elderly poor and dying is not one that is featured in Hollywood films. They do the work of serving those on the margins so they can prepare to receive the promises of Christ in a loving, warm community. When you walk into a Little Sisters home, hope and laughter fill your heart. Unless you have visited one of their homes (which I encourage everyone to do once COVID is behind us), it’s impossible to imagine the joy that emanates from the residents’ faces and the deep love they have for the sisters, who are their family.

Little Sisters of the Poor
Sister Lourdes Marie Miranda shares a quiet moment with an infirm resident at the Little Sisters of the Poor St. Martin’s Home in Baltimore. (CNS photo/courtesy Little Sisters of the Poor)

This alone would be enough to make the Little Sisters of the Poor deserving of being included among Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholics of the Year, but it’s their defense of their faith, which motivates their ability to love and care for their residents in this way, that is even more admirable. Used to doing their work out of the limelight, they stepped up and fought the most powerful government in the world at the Supreme Court — twice! — for the right to practice their faith according to their conscience. Quiet advocates became fearless spokespersons overnight, inspired by faith and qualified “for a time like this” (Esth 4:14). And the Lord would ask even more of them still.

As the COVID-19 epidemic targeted the most vulnerable and forgotten, especially the elderly in their care, the Sisters not only protected their homes but led the “A Million Families, A Million Rosaries” initiative from their homes around the world, encouraging all to pray for a cure for the coronavirus. Teaching us through their example of what Catholicism should look like — faithfulness to the Church, strength in the Eucharist, and service to family and community — the Little Sisters of the Poor are the best of us as they show us how to love the least among us.

Montse Alvarado is vice president and executive director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.