Representing hundreds of their religious colleagues and a century of religious service in Utah, two Salt Lake Roman Catholic sisters and 12 other Utah sisters will accept a papal award at a ceremony Sunday.
Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice (For the Church and the Pontiff) was first bestowed in 1888 as a token of the golden sacerdotal jubilee of Leo XIII and now is given in recognition of service to the Catholic Church and the papacy.Sisters M. Joan Allem and Lorraine Masters say they are personally honored by the award, to be presented by Bishop William K. Weigand, but stress they accept the distinction on behalf of many others involved in religious life.
"Both of us are accepting this honor as members of a religious congregation, as religious women and not as individuals," said Sister Joan, superintendent of the 12 Catholic schools throughout the state.
The two have been involved in religious life for 40 years, Sister Joan, taking her first vows in 1949 and Sister Lorraine taking hers in 1948. They stress their award represents the dedication of other sisters in their religious orders, some of which have been serving Utah for 100 years.
Sister Joan, a native Utahn, is a member of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, an order that first came to the state in the late 1800s. "As a Sister of the Holy Cross, our congregation was the first to work here in Utah," she said.
They came to Utah to serve the many miners in Utah at the turn of the century. Sisters of the Holy Cross first worked from a church built in a southern Utah mining community that has now gone the way of the ghost town.
Sister Lorraine, director of Native American Ministry for the Diocese, is a member of Our Lady of Victory Missionary, a catechistic order celebrating its 50th year in Utah.
Her order came to Utah to teach catechism to Utahns not attending Catholic school in the state. Many of her predecessors rode from Salt Lake City to St. George, teaching religious classes across an inhospitable desert.
"I feel that I'm in the footsteps of Escalante and Dominguez," Sister Lorraine said, referring to 19th century Catholic priests who pioneered exploration in the largely uninhabited 18th-century Southwest.
The sisters point to the histories of their respective orders and say it is the orders and the sisters who preceded them in their work for the Catholic Church in Utah who are especially deserving of the Ecclesia award.
But both have also contributed greatly to the diocese. Sister Joan equates her duties as superintendent to those assumed by the state school superintendent, "but on a smaller scale." Currently, she is struggling to develop an AIDS curriculum for Catholic schools in Utah.
Sister Lorraine serves as the liaison to Utah Indians for Bishop Weigand. This takes her occasionally to Indian reservations throughout Utah and has enabled her to flex some language skills by "dabbling in Navajo."
Through their years of religious experience, the sisters said they have seen a great deal of change - the passage of having to wear a full habit, for example - in their religious roles and admit they are often the victims of some misconception.
"People look at us through the eyes of a stereotypical nun," Sister Joan said. "But American nuns are very knowledgeable, trained professionals . . . who use the expertise and the talent that they know they have."
Twelve other sisters from seven religious orders in the state will also receive the award Sunday, to be given at a 10 a.m. Cathedral mass. Previously, lay religious figures have received the award, Sister Lorraine said.
The award is a cruciform shape and bears the like-nesses of Sts. Peter and Paul, the tiara and the papal keys and includes the name of the present pontiff.
A reception, sponsored by the Catholic Woman's League, will follow in the Cathedral Social Hall.