The Diocese of Lake Charles is proud to announce that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has conferred Papal Honors on 17 individuals for their dedication and exceptional service to the Roman Catholic Church.
Six have been named Knight in the Order of Saint Gregory the Great; two will receive the Papal Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Cross for the Church and Pontiff); and nine will receive the Papal Medal Benemerenti (Well-Deserving).
Papal Honors are conferred on clergy and laity who have distinguished themselves in one way or another in service to the Universal Church or the Church in a particular diocese.
Pope Francis conferred the Honors at the request of His Excellency, the Most Reverend Glen John Provost, Bishop of Lake Charles, who remarked, “In the Gospel of St. Matthew, our Lord Jesus Christ admonishes us: ‘Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father’ (Matthew 5:16). We should never do ‘good deeds’ for human recognition. However, the Church in its own way has always felt an obligation to acknowledge the good work of Catholic laity who contribute to the spread of the Gospel. In so doing, our Lord invites us to give glory to our heavenly Father and Creator.”
Bishop Provost continued, “In the Diocese of Lake Charles, there are so many good men and women who labor in their Church parishes and at the diocesan level, assisting the needy, teaching the Gospel message, and fostering the Christian life in their families, schools, and communities. From time to time, one way of showing our gratitude is to request from the Holy See acknowledgement of these services. I sincerely congratulate our recipients of these Papal Honors and ask you to rejoice with me. God bless them all!”
The Honors will be formally conferred upon the individuals by Bishop Provost during a Solemn Vespers service at 6:00 p.m. Sunday, February 13, 2022, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 935 Bilbo Street.
Order of Saint Gregory the Great
The Order of Saint Gregory the Great, one of the five pontifical knightly orders, was founded by His Holiness, Pope Gregory XVI in September of 1831 as a reward for subjects of the Papal States. In 1905, it was reorganized by Pope Pius X as a worldwide Order, available to those laymen who have contributed in an outstanding way to the welfare of Church and Community and who have displayed indisputable zeal in service to the Holy See.
Those named Knight in the Order of Saint Gregory the Great are:
- Robert “Bob” McCall: Mr. McCall has been an untiring advocate for priestly vocations. He has given generously of his time and resources to his parish of St. Margaret of Scotland of which he was a founding member. He freely provides his professional and legal expertise to Catholic institutions within the Diocese of Lake Charles. McCall is a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He and his wife, Brenda, reside in Lake Charles.
- Jared Watson: Mr. Watson is a generous member of the Cathedral parish, where he formerly served on the parish Pastoral Council. He provides his professional expertise as an attorney to Catholic institutions within the Diocese of Lake Charles. Most noteworthy is his work for Saint Louis Catholic High School. Watson is a member of the Knights of Columbus Cathedral Council #1207 and the Saint Thomas More Society. He and his wife, Jennifer, are the parents of five children.
- Neill Rowland: Mr. Rowland lives the teachings of the Church and values Catholic education. He and his wife, Sheri, ensured that their three children attended Catholic grammar school and high school, and have given heroic love and care to their severely disabled child. He has exhibited great charity to the less fortunate and has offered shelter of his home to those whose homes were flooded by recent storms. He is a member of St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church, where he serves as an usher for Sunday liturgies.
- Kevin Leonard: Mr. Leonard and his wife, Cathleen, have three children, one of whom began studies for the priesthood in the fall of 2021. He is a generous member of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Catholic Church in Sulphur, where he is tasked with duties related to stewardship and where he serves on the parish Finance Council and as a parish usher and sacristan. Mr. Leonard has dedicated time and energy to learn much about the sacred liturgy.
- David DesOrmeaux: As an accountant, Mr. DesOrmeaux has offered his professional services to clergy and his professional advice to Catholic institutions on whose boards and committees he has served. He and his wife, Courtney, have five children, one of whom began studies for the priesthood in the fall of 2021. They are parishioners of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. DesOrmeaux works for the good of other families as he uses his knowledge as a certified public accountant to advise family-owned businesses.
- Derek Conner: Mr. Conner is a generous member of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Bell City. As a medical professional, he has provided freely and generously his expertise to the Diocese of Lake Charles, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. He and his wife, Kimberly, have raised three children, and have given instruction on the sacrament of Baptism to parents preparing for the baptism of their own children.
Additionally, Watson, Rowland, DesOrmeaux, and Conner have given of their time to serve Masses of the Bishop of Lake Charles for the past 10 years.
Papal Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice
The Papal Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice honor was established by Pope Leo XIII in July of 1888. The medal is awarded to Catholics aged 45 and above for distinguished service to the Catholic Church and to the Papal office. Also known as the Cross of Honor, it comes directly from the Holy See. In the Diocese of Lake Charles, the Cross is presented for services and contributions to the Catholic Church at the Diocesan level over a period of 10 years or more.
Those honored with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice are:
- Mitch Martin: Mr. Martin has been a long-standing supporter and benefactor of Catholic education for Our Lady’s Catholic School in Sulphur. Through his construction company, Ave Maria Construction, he has assisted parishes with constructing facilities and with renovations and repairs. After Hurricane Laura devastated much of Southwest Louisiana in 2020 and many sought profits from the destruction, Mr. Martin provided a local and reliable resource to those in need while also dealing with the destruction that befell his own property. He was married to the late Betty R. Martin and is a parishioner of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Parish.
- Connie Dronette: Mrs. Dronette’s dedication to her family and the Catholic Daughters of the Americas’ cause of “Unity and Charity” has contributed much to her local community and to the national organization. She serves as National Secretary-Treasurer for CDA. Mrs. Dronette spent 29 years in the classroom, five of which were spent teaching special education. She also spent five years as a principal in a Catholic school. She and her husband David are parishioners of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Parish in Sulphur.
Papal Medal Benemerenti
The Benemerenti honor was established by Pope Pius VI (1775-1799) as recognition for military service to the Holy See. Later, the recipients were expanded to include members of the clergy and laity for exceptional service to the 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. In the Diocese of Lake Charles, the medal is presented for services and contributions at the Deanery level over a period of 10 years or more.
Those honored with the Papal Medal Benemerenti are:
- Michael Richard: For more than a decade, Mr. Richard has generously volunteered for his parish, Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Sulphur, his professional expertise as an electrician. In particular, he provided his services for the installation and upgrade of the security lighting on parish facilities. He and his wife, Gwendolyn, are leaders in their local Respect for Life Apostolate, and they assist with numerous annual parish retreats. Mr. Richard also volunteers his time by training altar servers to assist at Holy Mass.
- Sharon Jones: For more than 50 years as a parish cook for St. Henry Catholic Church, Mrs. Jones’ quiet zeal served as a pious example of unassuming, diligent service. She was attentive to the dietary preferences and needs of all guests and became well-known for her Cajun “gumbo,” which she cheerfully prepared to provide a meal to priests after frequent Advent and Lenten penance services. She and her husband, Albert, are parishioners of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Lake Charles.
- Suzanne Hebert: Devoting many years to assisting the music ministry in her parish of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Catholic Church in Sulphur, Mrs. Hebert volunteers as a member of the parish choir, and she has for several decades served as cantor and/or accompanist at two or more Sunday Masses every weekend. She and her husband, Randall, taught their children the value of service by ensuring that they were involved in youth activities and by volunteering as a family for summer youth events.
- Lea Poncho: Through her work with the Gabriel Project, Mrs. Poncho accompanies expectant mothers through the journey of pregnancy. In addition to raising four children, she and her husband, Derek, are actively involved in the local Domestic Church Movement, which seeks to strengthen family life through communal formation and prayer. Mrs. Poncho teaches special education at Immaculate Conception Cathedral School. She and her family are parishioners of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Lake Charles.
- Arnold Bellow: Mr. Bellow served for 28 years as an officer for the Lake Charles Police Department. His lifetime of civic service is mirrored by the service he has rendered to his faith community. His volunteer work includes extraordinary minister of Holy Communion to nursing homes and to the homebound, assisting with parish funerals, founder of parish chapter of “That Man is You” men’s group, and member of Knights of Columbus and Knights of St. Peter Claver. He and his wife, Linda, are parishioners of St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in Lake Charles.
- Blaine and Denise Wyninger: The tireless and humble dedication of Blaine and Denise Wyninger to their seven children and their community provides a true example of Christian service. The Wyningers volunteer as “mentor couple” for engaged couples preparing for marriage. Their involvement with the Domestic Church Movement has brought married couples, young and old, into “circles” of formation for marriage and family life. They also serve as catechetical instructors for their parish religious education program and assist with parish retreats. Blaine is Vice-Principal at Saint Louis Catholic High School, where he unfailingly promotes the school’s Catholic identity. Denise teaches children with learning disabilities. The Wyningers are parishioners of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Parish in Sulphur.
- Martha Simmons: Ms. Simmons has devoted many years to assisting the ministries of St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church. She volunteers as a member of the parish choir, as a sacristan, lector, and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. She has generously offered her services as a seamstress when needed. Additionally, she served faithfully for many years as the parish cook and always lifted spirits with her characteristic quick wit. She continued many of these ministries until she became one of the first in Lake Charles to contract COVID-19. After almost three months in the hospital, Ms. Simmons returned home, and as soon as her strength would allow, returned to her parish community for Sunday Mass.
- Deborah Richard: Upon her retirement from the U.S. Airforce, Ms. Richard began serving the local poor and needy through her work with the Saint Vincent de Paul Society at her parish of St. Henry Catholic Church, and through her work with Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana. She is a member of the St. Henry Altar Society, Catholic Daughters of the Americas, and is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion to the homebound. She is an advocate for the right to life and the dignity of all life through her volunteer work with the Gabriel Project, the ABC Pregnancy Center, New Life Counseling, and the Calcasieu Council on Aging.