Serra Club honors four priests

The succession of bishops that goes all the way back to St. Peter is a gift that God has given to the church, Father Thomas Kunz said. In Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Bishop David Zubik, the priest said he has found support that has made him proud to be a member of the presbyterate of Pittsburgh.

“I know that God provided us Bishop Zubik for the moment we’re in,” he said.

Father Kunz, associate general secretary and episcopal vicar for canonical services, was among four priests recognized with the Good Shepherd Award at the Serra Club of Pittsburgh’s 69th annual reception and dinner Aug. 22 at the LeMont Restaurant in Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington neighborhood.

Also recognized with the award were Fathers Samuel Esposito, James Farnan and Joseph Freedy.

In addition, the evening honored Serran Joseph Koepfinger, district governor, who received the 2018 Face of Serra Award for Region 3.

Father Kunz noted that while it had been a “tough week” in light of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, he was touched by the e-mails and texts of support that he had received. He thanked the Serrans for their support, adding, “You are the backbone of the church, you really are.”

In accepting his award, Father Farnan pointed to the grace received through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders. “We share so much,” he said. “I feel I’m a priest because I’m a grace junkie.”

The Good Shepherd Awards were presented by Daniel Maida, vice president of programs for the Serra Club of Pittsburgh.

Greg Schwietz, president of the USA Council of Serra International, presented the Face of Serra Award to Koepfinger. He praised the longtime member for his zeal and dedication to the Serrans, adding, “Joe, you are the face of Serra.”

Former Serra Club of Pittsburgh president John Warwick spoke of Koepfinger’s dedication to the order.

“Joe Koepfinger models the Serrans better than anyone I know,” he said.

Bishop Zubik repeated the need to remember victims of clergy abuse, but he added that it was important to remember the good priests and faithful of the diocese who help others “continue to grow in their faith, even in the darkest of moments.”

The bishop said he draws inspiration from the late Father Patrick Rager. Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — Lou Gehrig’s disease — shortly before his ordination to the diocesan priesthood, Father Rager ministered to countless people through a telephone ministry after his body began to wear down. He was known to many as a “living saint.”

When he was asked what inspired him, Bishop Zubik said, Father Rager would respond, “It’s Jesus.” A Pittsburgh Catholic column by Father Rager, written several years before his death in 2010, is relevant to today’s troubled times, the bishop said.

Quoting Father Rager, he said, “Storms arrive in all of our lives with some regularity. Many times they arrive without warning. They test our strength and resolve. In these difficult circumstances, we must remember that Jesus is in the boat with us on this chaotic, turbulent sea of life, just as he was in the boat with the apostles, calming them as he rebuked the winds and the waters. For the moment, he may appear silent, but he never forsakes us.”

Bishop Zubik announced that a cause for sainthood has been launched for Father Rager.

Other Serra Club of Pittsburgh members who were part of the program included Dr. Alice Hirsch, president, and Dolores Warwick, vice president of membership.

The Serra Club of Pittsburgh strives to foster and promote vocations to the priesthood, and to support priests in their ministry. It also works to encourage and affirm vocations to consecrated religious life, and to assist its members to recognize and respond in their own lives to God’s call to holiness in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

New members are welcome. For information, call 412-928-5830.