Pope Francis has bestowed papal honors upon 28 women and men in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for their dedication and exceptional service to the church, it was announced last week.

Nine have been named Dame or Knight in the Order of St. Gregory the Great, 11 will receive the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Cross for the Church and Pontiff); and eight will receive the Benemerenti (To a Well Deserved Person) Medal.

The honors will be conferred upon the individuals by Archbishop Charles Chaput during a Vespers service Sunday, Jan. 21 at 4 p.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia.


Each of the honorees “has performed some exceptional service for the church or offered some form of outstanding Christian witness in a generous and sustained way – in education, philanthropy, diaconal and religious life, prolife and vocations work, social ministry, and other apostolates,” said Archbishop Chaput. “Each has earned the gratitude of the Holy Father and our whole Catholic community.

“But more importantly, each represents and stands in for the many thousands of other committed Catholics who serve the Gospel every day with the same fidelity and unselfish love. Christian discipleship is not about accumulating honors. In the long run, the only award that really matters is the friendship of God. But these special expressions of papal praise and gratitude are moments of grace for all of us, and they’re meant to be a source of joy for the whole local church.”

The Benemerenti Medal was created under Pope Gregory XVI and dates to the late 18th century when it was first awarded to soldiers in the Papal Army. The medal was later extended to members of the clergy and laity for exceptional service to the Roman Catholic Church. It can be granted to persons as young as 35 and its reception is open to Catholics as well as members of other faith traditions.

Those receiving the medal are:

  • Anne Healy Ayella, who recently retired as assistant director for Nutritional Development Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She served the archdiocese for 36 years in various roles related to its Community Food Program and as a liaison with Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas relief agency of the Catholic Church in the United States. She was also a volunteer at the 41st International Eucharistic Congress held in Philadelphia in 1976.
  • Dawn Chism has been actively involved in leadership and service roles for the Philadelphia Catholic community at both the parish and archdiocesan levels for many years. Her primary focus has been to encourage priestly vocations and to provide moral support for priests, especially in the African-American community. She has also held various positions in the Serra Club of Philadelphia.
  • Chinh Dinh is a lay leader for the Vietnamese Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and for Vietnamese Catholics throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. He is the chairman for the Federation of Vietnamese Catholics.
  • John J. Donnelly is the retired president and CEO of L.F. Driscoll and serves on the Board of Directors of the Independence Mission Schools in the archdiocese. A passionate advocate in combating cancer, he received the Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Cancer Research in 2016.
  • Marie Joseph is an adjunct professor at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. She serves as the executive director of the Legacy of Life Foundation, a pro-life non-profit ministry saving more than 300 unborn children a year and providing support to their mothers.
  • Sheila Longworth has devoted her life and work to generations of seminarians and priests. She has served as a phone operator, mail room clerk, and secretary at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary for several decades.
  • Brian G. McElwee is the founding chairman of the Independence Mission Schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He also serves on the board of Immaculata University and Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS).
  • Damon Owens is the founder and executive director of joytob (“Joy to Be”), a nonprofit ministry of Stewardship: A Mission of Faith. He is the former executive director of the Theology of the Body Institute in Downingtown. He and his wife Melanie have taught Natural Family Planning for 14 years and were featured presenters at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.


The Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice was established in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII and is given to Catholics age 45 and over who have shown distinguished service to the church and the papal office.

Those honored with the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice are:

  • Deacon Manuel A. Beltran, a permanent deacon of the archdiocese, is assigned to St. Martin of Tours Parish in Philadelphia. His primary ministerial focus is on the region’s Hispanic community. He and his wife are especially active in the Pastoral Familiar ministry, which offers pastoral counseling and retreats to couples and families across the archdiocese.
  • Becky Espanol is the parish services coordinator and the religious education coordinator at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Philadelphia where her husband is a permanent deacon and where they work together in the Pastoral Familiar ministry to the Hispanic community.
  • Sister Maureen Crissy, R.S.M., has dedicated her religious life to those most in need through 25 years of service in the ministry of education and 25 additional years of service as program director at Women of Hope, a shelter providing transitional housing for women, operated by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services.
  • Kevin L. Hughes, Ph.D. is the co-founder and former chair of Villanova University’s Department of Humanities. He is currently an associate professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University.
  • Sister Patricia Kelly, M.S.B.T., has dedicated her religious life to those most in need through more than 50 years of service as an administrator for parish ministry for archdiocesan Catholic Social Services.
  • Brother Richard E. Kestler, F.S.C., has dedicated his religious life to the ministry of Catholic education as a teacher and administrator. In addition to many years as a classroom instructor at various Catholic schools, he served as president of West Catholic Preparatory High School from 1999 to 2005 and again from 2012 to 2016 before retiring. He continues to further the mission of Catholic education as a volunteer at West Catholic and La Salle University.
  • Deacon Jose L. Lozada was a member of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s first permanent deacon class in 1981. He has ministered to Philadelphia’s Hispanic community with distinction since that time and is currently serving at St. Veronica Parish in Philadelphia.
  • Matthew H. McCloskey IV is the founder and president of McCloskey Financial Group. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Archdiocesan Educational Fund, founded by his grandfather, since 1979 and has been its president since 1995. He also serves as a trustee for Serra International. He was previously named a Knight in the Order of St. Gregory the Great. His wife, Donna, is being named a Dame in the Order of Saint Gregory the Great this year.
  • Sister Anne Patricia Myers, S.S.J., serves as congregational president for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia. She has served as an elementary school teacher, counselor and psychologist as well as in various higher education roles as a professor. She also serves as vice chair of the Board of Directors at Chestnut Hill College.
  • Sister M. Edward William Quinn, I.H.M., has committed her religious life to the mission of the church through service in Catholic education for the past 50 years. She currently serves as assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment in the Office of Catholic Education for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
  • Thomas W. Smith, Ph.D. is a professor of political science and humanities at Villanova University and is also director of the Villanova University Honors Program. He is the co-founder and founding chair of Villanova’s Department of Humanities and former associate dean of the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


The Order of St. Gregory the Great, one of the five pontifical knightly orders, was founded by Pope Gregory XVI in 1831 to honor his sixth-century predecessor. It has been awarded to diplomats, artists, scientists, world leaders and interfaith leaders from all walks of life who have shown, by their service, extraordinary love for Jesus Christ and his church. Membership signifies recognition from the pope for service already rendered and an invitation from him to continue a life of exemplary Christian witness.

Those named Dame or Knight in the Order of St. Gregory the Great are:

  • Scott M. Browning has served the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, other Catholic dioceses and religious communities and the church at the national and international level for more than 20 years. He has been a major source of policy counsel on religious liberty and related issues, in crafting policies to help victims of sexual abuse and to prevent abuse in church-related environments, and in assisting with the church’s legislative and legal needs.
  • Mary Anne Burke and Arthur Burke: Arthur is the retired vice president of Fidelity Bank. He and his wife have held various leadership roles in their parish and worked to foster vocations through their 40-year involvement in the Serra Club of Philadelphia, of which Mary Anne served as the first female president.
  • Anna Davis and Gerald T. Davis: Gerald is a retired senior communications executive from Sunoco and serves on the board of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He and his wife and children were selected to present the offertory gifts at Mass to Pope Francis during his visit to Philadelphia in 2015.
  • Patricia B. Holloway and Gary M. Holloway: Gary is senior president and CEO of GMH Communities Associates. He and his wife Patricia have provided significant time, financial resources and support to the mission of the church through service on numerous archdiocesan boards and councils and through Catholic schools and institutions within the archdiocese.
  • Donna McCloskey: Working closely with her husband, Matthew, she has been a staunch supporter of the ministry of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for decades. Her particular area of focus has been with the Archdiocesan Educational Fund. She has exhibited great personal dedication and significant contributions to this cause.
  • Joseph J. Sweeney has worked to serve those most in need as an employee of the Secretariat for Catholic Human Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for 31 years before retiring in 2016. He was the first lay person to hold the position of Secretary for Catholic Human Services in the archdiocese.