Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC
The 2016 Women of Faith honorees pose for a group photo with Archbishop Thomas Wenski, from left: Solange Joseph (faith), Jennifer Mendez (love), Sandra Cardenal (youth), Sonnia Viyella (radiance), Norma Jean Abraham (charity), Cari Canino (wisdom), Natalie Bauta (motherhood), Maria Cristina Diaz (compassion), Lona Matthews (grace) and Dina Mitjans (humility).
MIAMI | A woman’s work is in the home … and in the church … and in schools … and in business…
And the proof, once again, came in the 10 women from every walk of life honored by the Archdiocese of Miami at its third annual Women of Faith event.
It’s also work they do quietly.
“I don’t do things to be recognized,” said an emotional Dina Mitjans after receiving the St. Anthony medallion for embodying the virtue of humility. “But a priest of mine told me recently that whatever comes to you, you have to accept. It’s a gift of God and this is not for me, it’s for his glory.”
Mitjans is a founding member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Doral, where — in addition to many other service roles — she spearheaded the fundraising that resulted in the dedication of a beautiful new church last December.
Another honoree also helped build a church — or more accurately, a church community.
Solange Joseph, now a member of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Miami Shores, received the St. Faith medallion for embodying that virtue. She played a key role in building up Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission back in the late 1970s.
In Miami in 1976, she recalled, “there’s a lot of Haitians but there’s no church for them” — not even a priest who spoke Creole. She attended Corpus Christi Church in the Wynwood area, where a newly ordained Father Thomas Wenski had been assigned.
“We start going door to door to let people know we’re there for them,” said Joseph in still accented English. “Go to Bayfront Park to fight for them. He was the leader. Stop deportations.”
Father Wenski went to Haiti to learn Creole. When he returned, he began celebrating Mass for Haitians at St. Mary Cathedral’s parish hall.
“Finally, we got Notre Dame d’Haiti,” Joseph said — actually, the cafeteria of the all-girls’ Notre Dame Academy, which had merged with Archbishop Curley High School in 1981.
Joseph’s group cleaned it up. Her husband’s band performed monthly concerts to raise funds. Now the community has its own beautiful church, dedicated in 2014. And Father Wenski is Miami’s archbishop, who “speaks Creole better than me!” Joseph said.
She retired a few years ago from her fulltime job as a nurse, telling her co-workers, “I’m going to be fulltime for Jesus.”
“I go to church seven days a week,” she added joyfully.
Another parish builder honored this year is Lona Matthews of St. Philip Neri in Miami Gardens. She joined as a child, and was the first president of the church’s Catholic Youth Organization back in the 1960s. She and her husband still take Communion to the sick and homebound every week, and she is active in nearly a dozen parish groups and ministries.
“It only encourages me to do more,” said Matthews, who was honored for embodying the virtue of grace. “And I’m only doing what God commands us all to do. I’m only trying to be a disciple.”
Maria Cristina Díaz of Little Flower Parish in Coral Gables expressed a similar attitude. She received the St. Francis of Assisi medallion for embodying the virtue of compassion.
“They feel that I care for people. That’s just the way I am,” said Díaz, a Dame with the Cuban Association of the Order of Malta.
The Knights and Dames of Malta pledge to defend the faith and care for the sick. They typically make pilgrimages to Lourdes, France, to serve the sick who go there seeking healing at its pools.
Díaz had been doing that for years before being asked to join the Knights in 1998. She has chaired their White Cross Ball since 2005, in the process raising thousands of dollars to help the people of her native Cuba.
“I was surprised but very honored” by the Women of Faith recognition, Díaz said. “You don’t think you deserve something like that.”
Cari Canino called it “a double honor” to receive the St. Sofia medallion for embodying the virtue of wisdom. She is the first archdiocesan school principal and the fourth member of St. Gregory Parish in Plantation to be recognized.
Canino has been principal of St. Gregory School since 2008. Before that, she founded its pre-school. As for the wisdom nod, “it’s kind of scary,” she admitted.
Another school staffer recognized this year was Jennifer Mendez, college counselor at her alma mater, St. Brendan High School in Miami. She received the St. Valentine medallion for embodying the virtue of love.
“It’s a very humbling award but it’s also a call for how we are to live our lives — with love,” said the young mother of 3-and-a-half-year-old Gianna.
The Women of Faith awards luncheon raises funds for Catholic education: more than $50,000 this year, and similar amounts the previous two, which provide scholarships to students in need.
Each year, the awards also recognize a student with the St. Maria Goretti medallion for embodying the virtue of youth. Sandra Cardenal, a senior at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Miami, was this year’s recipient.
A product of Catholic education from the age of 3 — she started at St. Louis Covenant pre-school — Sandra is a peer minister and helps lead retreats for Lourdes’ underclassmen. After going on a summer mission to a poor school in Managua, Nicaragua, she started Little Uniforms, a project that collects uniforms for the Managua schoolchildren.
In a brief talk at the luncheon, she extolled the formative role of her parish, St. Louis, and Catholic schools.
“All my life I have been used to a community that helped in times of need, hosted prayer groups for those who were sick, cooked dinners for families during hard times, and even when your loved ones pass away, you know that they will be there to console you and help you with anything they can,” Sandra said.
“Lourdes has not only taught me to be successful but more importantly it has taught me to be a woman of faith, with Mary in all things,” she continued. “I am honored to stand before all of you today to show you the impact of Catholic education, because without it, I cannot even begin to imagine the kind of woman I would be.”
For biographies of the 2016 Women of Faith honorees, click here.