Angela Davis receives the St. John Neumann Award for five years’ service as a parish religious educator from Archbishop Chaput and Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fitzgerald. (Sarah Webb)

The 250 or so women and men (at very least 90 percent women) who were honored at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Jan. 11 were really stand-ins for thousands of other equally worthy laborers in the vineyards of the Lord.

This was the annual Mass and award ceremony for Parish Religious Education Programs throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. With parish school attendance a mere fraction of what it was in past generations, these mostly lay catechists are the unpaid face and voice of the Catholic Church for countless boys and girls.

“This is an opportunity for us to gather together to give thanks for the tremendous work they do,” said Father John J. Ames, deputy secretary for Catechetical Formation in the archdiocese. “They are the folks who are on the front lines of the catechetical mission of the Church. They are the ones who are in the classroom really conveying the teachings of Jesus to another generation so that this generation might fall in love with him and ultimately be transformed by him.”

(See a photo gallery from the Mass and ceremony here.)

Archbishop Charles Chaput, who was the principal celebrant and homilist for the Mass and presider at the awards ceremony, stressed not so much the role of catechist in his homily as he did the role of evangelist.

“The church for many generations has been very good at catechizing, teaching the faith. What we haven’t been so good at is evangelizing,” he said. “We haven’t passed on the excitement about being Christian.”

At the heart of what teachers and catechists do “is to share the Good News of the transformation of human nature that takes place because of God’s love for us,” the archbishop said.

After the Mass various awards were given for years of service: St. John Neumann (five years); St. Pius X (10 years); Our Lady of Guadalupe (15 years); St. Martin de Porres (20 years); St. Charles Borromeo (25 years) and Blessed John Paul II (30 years).

(Watch a video from the awards ceremony here.)

Special awards were also given to select members of the Archdiocesan Association of Parish Directors, Coordinators and Administrators of Religious Education.

“Catechetical ministry is essential to our diocese,” said Anne Hayes, president of the association. “We assist parents in forming their children in our faith; we help them in preparation of their families.”

In these categories as coordinators and administrators Deacon Raymond F. Gwynn Sr., Marianne Kane and Kathryn R. Tomas received the St. Katharine Drexel Award for 10 years’ service; Sister Joyce C. Bell, I.H.M, received the St. Katharine Drexel Award for 20 years’ service and Patricia B. Ehrhart, Anne Hayes, Sister Mary Jane McCaffrey, I.H.M. and Catherine A. Maugeri received the Queen of the Family Award for 25 years’ service.

Evelyn Brannan Tarpey, who is the archdiocesan Safe Environment Program Coordinator, received an honorary St. Katharine Drexel Award.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Pope Paul VI Award for Catholic Leadership was given posthumously to Harrisburg Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, who died suddenly on May 2, 2013.

Bishop McFadden, who was Philadelphia born, was a lay teacher at West Catholic High School before his ordination as a priest, then a priest secretary to Cardinal John Krol, president of Cardinal O’Hara High School, and a parish pastor. As an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, he oversaw Catholic education until his 2010 appointment to Harrisburg.

At the Mass and ceremony to accept the award for him were his brother John and his sisters Ellen McConey and Sister Jane McFadden, I.H.M.

“It’s a nice honor,” Sister Jane said. “We have to educate the youth and if we don’t do that the church is missing a lot. Young people have so much to give to the church and to bring to us.”

A videotaped retrospective on Bishop McFadden’s life ended with him saying, “Pray for me as I pray for you, that all of us may follow Mary the Mother of Jesus and the model for all disciples as we seek, like her, to make Jesus the center of our lives, and the reason for all that we do.”

Apt advice indeed for catechists.

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Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.

Sister Jane McFadden, I.H.M., along with family members receives the Paul VI Award given posthumously to her brother, Bishop Joseph McFadden, by Archbishop Chaput. (Sarah Webb)