The Keys & Sword Award, given annually by the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul “acknowledges members of the religious or civic community in recognition of their extraordinary commitment and selfless dedication in service to others.”
Given that description, this year’s choice was a no-brainer. It was the Missionaries of Charity, the religious congregation established by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, which locally conducts facilities for the indigent, the homeless and the sick, regardless of race or creed in Norristown and Chester City.
The award, along with a check to further their work, was presented to the Sisters after the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Daniel E. Thomas at the Cathedral.
“In their humble service to the Church they strive to introduce people to Jesus,” Bishop Thomas said in his homily.
Testifying from his own personal experience, Bishop Thomas recalled that during one visit to a hospice conducted by the Sisters, he was asked to baptize a woman who was gravely ill; she was not Christian, but she had requested baptism.
He agreed to do so and in her simple room he baptized her. “Three hours later the Sisters called to tell me she had died with great joy,” he said.
Msgr. Arthur E. Rodgers, rector of the Cathedral, made the presentation, and in his remarks he said, “The work and mission of these Missionary Sisters of Charity hopefully awakens in each one of us a true commitment to the Gospel law of love God and love your neighbor.”
He recalled when Mother Teresa visited Philadelphia during the Eucharistic Congress in 1976 she stood at virtually the same spot in the Cathedral sanctuary as where the award was being presented.
“Her spirit lives in your lives and your works,” he told the sisters.
Accepting the award for the Sisters was Sister Maria Jasmin, superior in Norristown, and Sister Maria Bahia, superior in Chester.
The Missionaries of Charity are now in their 27th year in the Philadelphia area, according to Sister Maria Jasmin who is a relative newcomer, here just two years. “It is beautiful here in the Philadelphia Archdiocese,” she said.
The Keys & Sword award takes its name from the symbols of SS. Peter and Paul, and past recipients include Rosalie M. Mirenda, president of Neumann University, financial services executive Robert J. Sims, Cardinal Justin Rigali and Philadelphia Police Chief Charles H. Ramsay.