Fordham’s Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education (GRE) bestowed 11 awards on members of the Catholic community who exemplify outstanding service and spirit, at the third annual Sapientia et Doctrina celebration held Nov. 1.
Among those feted were the Friars of Manhattan’s St. Francis of Assisi parish, businessman and philanthropist Carl C. Landegger, and retired New York City Detective Lt. Steven D. McDonald and his family.
McDonald, a third-generation police detective, was shot three times in the line of duty in July 1986. His wounds left him paralyzed from the neck down. McDonald publicly forgave his teenage assailant in 1987, praying that the young man might find purpose in his life.
“It’s fairly easy to be ordinary,” said Michael Hayes (GRE ’05, FCRH ’92), who presided over the evening. “But while the people here tonight are probably too humble to tell you how hard it is to be saint-like, I think they’d all say without a doubt that they discovered just who they really are through the tough jobs they do each and every day with little thanks, but with such grace and fortitude.
“We honor them as living saints. They are simply people who live their lives as best as they can and become all they can be, nothing more, but more importantly, nothing less.”
In a moving keynote speech, McDonald, a devout Roman Catholic, recalled two “personal spiritual faith moments” that helped him accept, acknowledge, forgive and persevere through his trying ordeal. McDonald described the sensation of being “touched by Jesus” when John Cardinal O’Connor laid the Eucharist on his forehead, as he lay wounded in his hospital bed.
The second moment, said McDonald, came months after the shooting, when his wife, Patty Ann, gently laid their newborn son Conor’s face against his face following a difficult birth. Patty Ann McDonald was three months pregnant when McDonald was shot while questioning robbery suspects in Central Park.
“God gave me the gift of forgiving my assailant and I accepted it,” McDonald said. “Just as Cardinal O’Connor knew that the body of Christ would inspire me to live my life faithfully, Patty Ann knew that Conor would inspire me as well to my vocation as a father.
“I do not know if I could have accepted God’s gift had I not been given those two faith moments,” McDonald said.
Today, McDonald is a motivational speaker who shares his personal message of faith to help others choose nonviolence and forgiveness. He and his wife are co-authors of The Steven McDonald Story(Donald I. Fine, 1989), and son, Conor, attends college in Boston.
Landegger and his wife, Renee, established the Landegger Charitable Foundation in 1976 and have supported numerous educational programs around the globe, including Fordham’s 2008 conference “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.” He is chairman of Landegger Industries and has been instrumental in improving the efficiency of paper recycling through technology.
The Ministry of the Franciscan Friars runs several self-help groups, a 24-hour confession, a residence for the mentally ill, an immigration center and a daily breadline at the Manhattan parish of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street. Recently, the Friars designed and implemented their own Facebook page.
The other awardees include:
James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., for his lifetime of teaching and mentoring at several Jesuit high schools and colleges, including Fordham. Father DiGiacomo now writes for America magazine;
Mario J. Paredes, honored for his service to the Catholic Church and his outreach and leadership within the Hispanic community;
Carole M. Eipers, D. Min., for her teaching and expertise on catechesis;
Rev. John Grace, for ministering the congregation of Virginia Tech following a shooting spree in April 2007 on the university campus;
Charles D. Mayer, Psy. D., for his practice of innovative pastoral psychotherapy and conversation;
Robert J. McCarty, D. Min., for his leadership in developing Catholic youth ministry;
Marie Pappas, C.R. (GRE ’96), for her work with schools on behalf of the Archdiocese, and her design of the Safe Environment Curriculum for students;
Joanne Picciurro, F.S.P. (GRE ’75), for her pastoral work in involving the laity in ministry, and her outreach to the sick and homebound in her New Jersey parish.
This year’s awardees were chosen by a committee of GRE alumni, GRE Associate Dean Bert Binder and Rev. Anthony Ciorra, Ph.D., dean of GRE.