April 14, 2011

Catholic University Awards Cardinal Medal for Fortitude to Nine Honorees

The Catholic University of America awarded members of the CUA community - two posthumously - with the Cardinal Medal for Fortitude at the Cardinal Leadership Celebration on April 13.

The medal was awarded to CUA faculty, staff, and students who exemplify the cardinal virtue of fortitude. Earlier this year, members of the CUA community were invited to nominate those who have overcome adversity with a joyful spirit, exhibit constancy in the pursuit of good, stand firm in difficulty, and exemplify quiet strength.

After placing the medal - a gold medallion on a red ribbon - around the neck of the awardees, President Garvey noted that in ancient Greece, fortitude was associated with bravery and courage in battle. Fortitude was later absorbed into the Christian tradition as a virtue. Today, Garvey noted, fortitude means "the courage to take up our daily crosses and challenges."

"Fortitude belongs not only to those with outward strength . . . but to those with outward weaknesses as well," he said. The medal winners "have chosen to persevere in the Christian life, many of them in the face of their challenges" and have "offered our community a special gift," Garvey said. (To see video of last night's ceremony, click here.)

The awarding of the medal was part of a series of events related to President John Garvey's inaugural year theme "Intellect and Virtue: The Idea of a Catholic University." Throughout the semester, the university has dedicated one month to each of the four cardinal virtues of justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. The month of April is dedicated to fortitude. (Watch fortitude video.)

Those awarded the Cardinal Medal for Fortitude were:

  • Carla Calhoun and President John Garvey
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  • Carla Calhoun, a student in the Master of Social Work program in the National Catholic School of Social Service. Approximately 10 years ago, Calhoun ended her 19-year career in business and engineering to raise her two children - then 12 and 8 years old - after her husband died of colon cancer. After his death, she converted to Catholicism and participated in a 30-week social justice program called Just Faith.

    Her desire to help others led to her current academic path, said Rev. Jude DeAngelo, O.F.M., Conv., chaplain and director of the Office of Campus Ministry, in introducing Calhoun. One of her nominators described her as "a motivational force, simultaneously strong and gentle, within our learning community - a reminder to us that in the midst of adversity are tremendous opportunities for positive change. She emanates generosity, joyfulness, gratitude and of course, fortitude."

  • Vernon Ennels and President Garvey
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  • Vernon Ennels, an officer in the Department of Public Safety. Ennels has used his experiences as a recovering alcoholic to help others, especially students in the Columbus School of Law, where he can often be found while on duty. One nominator described him as a "guardian" to the law school students. Recently, Officer Ennels good-naturedly asked a student leaving the law school building if she was going to smoke a cigarette. "Knowing that she was trying to quit, he wanted to be sure she knew he was there for her," said Susan Pervi, vice president for student life, while introducing Ennels.

    Two and a half years ago, his son was murdered. His faith, family, and friends helped him persevere at home and at work during his family's loss. He recently received an award from the nonprofit group Community Advocates for Family and Youth as part of National Crime Victims' Rights Week. The trial for the suspect in his son's death is scheduled to start soon, according to Officer Ennels.

  • Glenda Flores with President Garvey
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  • Glenda Flores, manager of custodial services in the Office of Facilities Maintenance and Operations. Flores was 12 when her mother was almost killed while working in Guatemala. Her mother came to the United States to seek work to support her family. Glenda was left to take care of herself and three younger brothers in El Salvador on just $200 a month.

    "Glenda persevered on a daily basis by preparing food for her siblings and taking care of a busy household," said Pervi, who presented Flores. She also dealt with a home break-in attempt, trips to the hospital, and an injury sustained by her brother.

    When her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2000, Flores came to the United States to take care of her mother and her youngest brother. She will begin working on a business management degree in CUA's Metropolitan School of Professional Studies this fall.

  • Stewart Gay and President Garvey
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  • Stewart Gay, a student pursuing a degree in interdisciplinary studies in the Metropolitan School of Professional Studies. Gay lost his mother to cancer in 1996. In 2002, Gay was in a major accident on his way to see his father who was undergoing surgery due to complications from lung cancer. The stress from these events took a toll on his health: his kidneys failed, and Gay now undergoes dialysis three times weekly. He is currently waiting for a kidney donor. Despite these experiences, Gay has continued to pursue an academic degree and is an inspiration to his classmates.

    Gay describes himself as a minister since the age of 14 and said that he has "found comfort through difficult times in the word of God, and spreads the word as part of his ministry," said Father Jude in his introduction of Gay.

    "He never feels sorry for himself or expects others to feel sorry for him. He knows that faith in God can carry him through life's greatest challenges,' his nominator wrote.

  • Patrick McClellan with President Garvey
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  • Patrick McClellan, a senior in the School of Architecture and Planning. When McClellan was 16, he went to Chihuahua, Mexico, on a church mission trip and assisted at a local soup kitchen. After his experience there, he helped raise $37,000 to purchase the building that houses the soup kitchen as well as kitchen appliances. This helped the operator of the soup kitchen to keep it open.

    McClellan has been to Mexico six times - twice since he started at CUA - to work at the soup kitchen. "Patrick remains determined to follow the children and their families he has connected with as they grow up dependent upon the soup kitchen," his nominator wrote, as read by Pervi in introducing McClellan. "He is unfazed by the danger while in Mexico. He relies on the enjoyment and satisfaction of knowing that he is serving God and his fellow man."

  • Kathleen Miedreich and President Garvey
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  • Kathleen Miedreich, a psychology major. Miedreich started at CUA in 2006. During her sophomore year, she fell and hit her head. After the fall, Miedreich felt stressed and directionless. Several doctors tried to diagnose her problem, but to no avail. She eventually left CUA during her junior year to try to alleviate some of the stress. Finally, a neurologist found that the fall had caused her to lose function of the right side of her brain.

    Since regaining brain function, Miedreich has returned to CUA surrounded by a new group of students and friends. Father Jude noted in his introduction that she "sees many positive things that have come out of this situation and she says her life has taken on a whole different meaning and purpose."

    One of Miedreich's nominators noted that she is "one of the bravest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing."

  • Kevin Townsend receives the medal on behalf of his wife.
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  • Jane Pesci-Townsend, former chair of the musical theatre program in the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music. Pesci-Townsend came to CUA in 1994 when she began teaching voice lessons. Later, she directed several shows put on by the music school. Pesci-Townsend passed away last August from cancer, but those who knew her admired her strength in the face of her long battle against the disease.

    Those who knew her told stories of her "checking herself out of the hospital for a class or performance, struggling to climb the stairs of Ward Hall, arriving at her destination transformed by the energy of her students witnessing her joyful spirit," said Pervi in honoring Pesci-Townsend, whose husband Kevin accepted the award on her behalf.

  • Rev. Giles Dimmock, O.P., prior of the Dominican House of Studies received the award of behalf of Rev. Kurt Pritzl, O.P.
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  • Rev. Kurt Pritzl, O.P., former dean of the School of Philosophy. Father Pritzl came to CUA in 1980 and served in a number of leadership positions prior to his appointment as dean in May 2000. After he passed away from a long illness this past February, the University announced the creation of the Father Kurt Pritzl, O.P. Chair in Philosophy.

    Those who nominated him said they admired his genuine joy and happiness, care for others, and great fortitude.

    Father Jude read a few words from Father Pritzl's nominators, who described him as "a most faithful, trustworthy, joyful servant of the University" and one who had "always shown a positive attitude and directed attention away from himself no matter how much he was suffering or was inconvenienced by his pain." Rev. Giles Dimmock, O.P., prior of the Dominican House of Studies, accepted the award of behalf of Father Pritzl.

  • Joan Vorrasi with President Garvey
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  • Joan Vorrasi, director of student life and special events in the Columbus School of Law. Vorrasi has worked at CUA for 45 years, with a couple of short breaks. After her husband passed away from multiple sclerosis, Vorrasi was left to raise their two children, then aged 10 and 3. Both of her children later graduated from the University and began successful careers.

    "If you asked Joan, she would say that she was simply doing what needed to be done," Pervi said in her introduction of Vorrasi.

    Her nominator wrote that "I've learned how much her faith means to her and I've also learned that, because she has lost so much, she has learned to value each other person, each moment, each day in a special way. I believe the University is blessed by the expression of her faith in her caring and concern for our students and colleagues."

Other CUA students were recognized for excellence at the ceremony. To see a full list of the awardees, click here.


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