WASHINGTON (CNS) — Patty Johnson, immediate past president of the National Council of Catholic Women, received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal from Pope Francis.

Johnson received the award during a Mass opening the Knoxville Diocesan Council of Catholic Women convention April 23.

Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, presided at the Mass and presented the award.

The medal, also known as the Cross of Honor, is the highest honor a Catholic layperson can receive. It is given for distinguished service to the church.

Johnson said she was “thrilled and humble” to receive the award.

“I would like to share the news of this award with my council sisters across the country as it is through them and with them that I have had so many opportunities to serve the church and to strengthen my faith and hold firm to the teachings of the Catholic Church,” she said in a statement from the NCCW.

Johnson, a retired registered nurse, has been active with the NCCW for more than 50 years.