Sr, Catherine Lillis received the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal”.
Congratulations to Sr. Catherine Lillis on receiving the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal”
A message was left recently for Sr. Catherine Lillis, who is a Columban Sister working in Ireland, which read:
‘Bishop Tom Deenihan of Meath called to let you know that you are being awarded the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal”. This is the highest Vatican honour that can be given to a Religious, so congratulations and you really deserve the honour. Bishop Tom Deenihan wants to present it to you at the Vigil Mass in Navan on July 8th 2023′.
The medal, awarded in gold, officially known as Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (“For Church and Pope“) is a decoration of the Holy See and is currently conferred for distinguished service to the Catholic Church by lay people and clergy.
As Sr. Catherine was coming to terms with this honour, which she felt unworthy of, she reflected back on her life and on listening to her, the image that came was from the poem “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson. This poem is full of symbolism that can be interpreted in a variety of ways. One of the most prominent symbols in the poem is the “Hound of Heaven” itself.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
The Hound represents God, a divine force that is pursuing the speaker, who is attempting to escape. The Hound can be interpreted as a representation of a loving God and the speaker’s fear of the Hound and his attempts to flee from it and ending with the ultimate triumph of divine grace. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with ‘unhurrying and unperturbed pace’, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. This can be a story of all our lives but Catherine’s vast experience of life from Hong Kong(1957), Korea, Burma, Egypt, Britain, Ireland, USA, Dublin, Dalgan and her last post in Navan (2005), where in the words of U2 ‘she found what she was looking for’.
The Hound says ‘Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’ This led Catherine to the Inner City in Dublin in 1972 where she found people struggling and dying from alcohol and aids, to searching a way forward in this field. She knew five women who died from alcohol and these women left children after them and so she experienced the pain and vulnerability of life in these circles. She was greatly impressed with the work of Sr. Consilio where she realized that many were homeless because of their addiction to alcohol. While being assigned to Chicago she was on the lookout for training centers and eventually went back there and trained as an addiction councilor based on the Minnesota model of counseling. On return to Ireland she worked in the Rutland Centre initially and subsequently in the Inner City with the Health Board and reached out to those caught in the drug and alcohol web scene. This was calling her to a new way of responding to mission here in Ireland. From the Rutland Centre, every Friday evening, she travelled to Dalgan Park where our Sisters were living, and set up meetings with clients from that area on Saturdays and returned to Dublin on her highlighted psychedelic mudguard Honda CC so as to be seen while driving in the dark, every Saturday evening. This led to an invitation to come to work full time in Navan and she rented various houses which she used for individual and family counseling. Finally, Navan became her home and she got a permanent place in Tabor House, Navan where she is ministering up to today.
In 2003 the North Eastern Health Board and the Department of the Environment and Local Government came to an agreement that if Tabor House came into being, they would support the work and the first clients arrived in 2004. The official opening of the House took place in May 2005 and was performed by President Mary McAleese.
When she started this work 17 years ago, few women were seen in pubs and the problems they were living with were not coming out. Then things started coming into the light with pub culture. Catherine is now the ‘hound’ trying to get a Women’s Home for them who have the same needs and rights. Catherine will never give up. Tabor House got a site of land four years ago and so she continues to get the ‘powers that be’ to set their sights in this direction!
Bishop Deenihan concelebrated the Mass with Frs. Declan Hurley, Robert McCabe and Gerry Neylon, SSC. In his welcome address he spoke about his gratitude to Sr. Catherine for her ministry of compassion, selfless commitment and vision to the people suffering in the margins and for providing Tabor House in the Parish. This is part of the Church’s mission and how right it was that Pope Francis would confer this award on her. He also thanked those who assisted her in her work, as this compassion is the hallmark of the Christian community.
The church bulletin highlighted the occasion: “We congratulate Sr. Catherine Lillis on the news of recognition by Pope Francis on her missionary work and since her ‘retirement’- her foundation and development of Tabor House as a support for people who are living under the shadow of addiction. We welcome members of the Columban family and friends of Tabor House who are visiting our parish for 6pm Mass at which Bishop Deenihan confers the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award on Sr. Catherine”.
Congratulations Sr. Catherine on this special occasion and despite the struggles in the “Hound of Heaven” poem, we still see it offers hope, as it portrays God’s grace as a powerful force that can overcome even the most difficult of circumstances in life.
‘Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
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