Chanche medals celebrate gifts, youth category added this year

JACKSON – Bishop Joseph Kopacz presented 22 people, including four young people, with the Bishop Chanche Medal during a Mass on Saturday, Feb. 21, in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. This is the first year there has been a youth category to honor young people who give exemplary service to their church.
From Deanery I Madeline Sawaya of Gluckstadt St. Joseph and Ronni Nicole Wolfe from Vicksburg St. Michael were honored. Sawaya, 17, serves at the youth Mass and helps out with parish service projects, including helping with a summer mission trip. She said receiving the medal was a complete surprise. “The biggest reward for me is when I work hands-on with people in my community and their gratitude is the greatest reward,” she said.
Pam Minninger, the lay ecclesial minister at St. Joseph Parish, wrote in her nomination that Sawaya inspires others with both her faith and service. “Madeline does not plan church around her life, she plans her life around church,” wrote Minninger.
Sawaya’s advice to other teens: “Even if you get separated from church, or maybe you weren’t raised Catholic or you don’t have a strong faith – it’s never too late for you to start. God is always there to guide you,” she said.
Wolfe has been an altar server for so long she helps younger servers with training and encouragement. She is also very active in her Catholic Youth Organization. “Ronni Wolfe is a wonderful example of how today’s Catholic teenager should live their life. She is kind and loving, generous and faith-filled. She is proud to say that she has faith in God and is aware of his infinite love and mercy,” wrote Father P.J. Curley, her pastor, in her nomination.
Natalie Fletcher of Woodville St. Joseph represented Deanery II in the youth category. She travels to Natchez to attend Cathedral School. Her pastor said he has seen an increase in the number of young people serving as altar servers and participating in service projects because of Fletcher. She serves at Stewpot, assists in the ministry to shut-ins and cleans the grounds at the Natchez Children’s Home. Fletcher said she loves her service work and never imagined she would get a recognition such as this for it. She said she fears many people are being drawn away from God, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Fletcher said while it is hard to be a Catholic teenager in Mississippi, everyone can grow stronger in their faith. “I would say you need to pray first off, thank God for everything you have. Draw close to him and he will help you,” she said.
Cooper Dunn of Greenwood Immaculate Heart of Mary is the Deanery III honoree. Dunn, 17, attends Pillow Academy and is currently the CYO president at his parish. Father Gregory Plata, OFM, his pastor said Dunn volunteered to be a religious education teacher for younger children and is very involved in the parish food drive.
The Bishop Chanche Medal was established as part of the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the diocese as a way to honor people who give of themselves to their parishes. Pastors and lay ecclesial ministers can nominate members of their communities. A committee of Catholics from across the diocese reviews the nominations and makes a recommendation to the bishop.
Adults who were honored and some of their contributions are included in the sidebar. While the staff at Mississippi Catholic recognizes and honors their many contributions, there is simply not enough space to include all their accolades.