THE Papal recognition awarded to four strong Catholic women in TT is being lauded as an acknowledgement of the important and supporting role women have always played in this religious institution.
On September 11, the four renowned for their humanitarian efforts, Rhonda Maingot of the Living Water Community, Deborah de Rosia of the Eternal Light Community, Leela Ramdeen, chair of The Catholic Commission for Social Justice and St Joseph of Cluny, Sr Ruth Montrichard, chair of Servol (Service Volunteered for All), were conferred with the Benemerenti Medal from Pope Francis.
Sr Ruth likened it to a “national award from the Vatican.”
Papal representative to the Antilles Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, who said he had heard of their work not only in the archdiocese, but in other dioceses around the Caribbean, made the presentation in a covid19 correct ceremony at the residence of Archbishop Jason Gordon in Port of Spain.
Along with Vicar General Fr Martin Sirju, the women were given certificates from the Pope, for their “long and meritorious service” to the Catholic Church, a “well-deserved” gold medal, plus a pin.
The award was originally designed for soldiers in the papal army, but over the years has been awarded to members of the clergy and laity for service to the church.
Archbishop Gordon said the women were gifts to the local church and the medals were symbolic of the recognition, appreciation and gratitude the church had for the tireless work they have done for the people of God in the different ministries of their archdiocese.
All four, who have dedicated collectively almost 200 years in service to the church for the empowerment of others, said while they never craved public recognition, they were surprised but humbled and honoured by the gesture.
In fact, one of the recipients, Ramdeen, a teacher, attorney and voluntary worker who is well-known for her advocacy as chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice and archdiocese’s ministry for migrants and refugees, recalled when she was called to Archbishop’s House, she walked with her pen and paper.
“I thought we were going to a meeting, but His Grace and the vicar general were clapping as we walked up the steps. I wondered why we were going to his private apartment and not in his office and then he said ‘go and stand by your name’ and then we saw these four big certificates on the table.
“He then asked us to turnaround and there were medals behind. I had my mask on and I just couldn’t breathe and he pulled up a chair for me and took off my mask and gave me a face shield so I was able to breathe.
“It was such a shock. I have received lots of awards before, but I was humbled and honoured by this one,” said Ramdeen.
Sr Ruth, who spent 15 years as a teacher and the last 47 at Servol and the Christian Meditation Centre, focusing on the education and development of at-risk children, adolescents and adults, said women have been the backbone of the male-oriented church, but have not really been recognised for what they do.
She said Gordon in recommending them to Rome may have thought that just like Mary Magdalene, who was the first woman to announce the resurrection and was always there helping the church, supporting the bishop and the priests to build the body of Christ to help humanity, they were not really given much recognition.
“A lot of women in the church give service and are not really recognised for what they do. So, this award as far as I am concerned in a church that’s mainly male-oriented it is a symbol of the church’s recognition in this day and age of the service of women. Not only the four of us, but religious women, mothers and grandmothers.”
“I think women are the glue that holds the society together and symbolically this award also recognises all women. We are just the ones who have received it in recognition of women perform a role in the church and in the domestic church which is the home."
She said it is the first time, in her memory, four women have earned such a distinction from the Vatican, “and I receive this for all the people who have supported me for sharing my work. No matter what vision you have if people don’t buy in nothing happens.”
Maingot, who has been a “soldier for Christ”, has dedicated her life to the formation of an unprecedented number of charitable organisations, including two hospices, one for people with Aids and one for people with cancer, a home for the aged and drug rehabilitation centres devoted to children, the poor, elderly and the infirm.
Her charitable work has not been limited to TT but has been extended to St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent, and the Netherlands Antilles and as far as Russia where she undertook a three-year mission at the end of communism in 1992.
Her work with the Ave Maria Centre for Homeless Persons, Our Lady of the Wayside Halfway House for Abandoned Children, with the Living Water Community she founded in 1975, and in recent times her compassion for the Venezuelan migrant community, is legendary.
She has had a knack for transforming charitable work into economic activity and was able to turn Her Fountain of Hope Developmental Programme for Young Women into a small garment factory called Vision of Hope. The original Living Water Community has also generated catering and food service businesses, while the Trinity Communications Network, which she founded, gave rise to the Caribbean School for Catholic Communications and has expanded the radio and television enterprise into a multi-media concern with an Internet presence, which generates employment.
Maingot, a national award recipient, shared her award with her Living Water co-founder Rose Jackman, “who has always been there with me through this journey for the past 45 years."
“I am very humbled to receive something like this and as long as God gives me the health and strength I will be working in the trenches for God.”
Another educator, de Rosia, who fulfilled her dream for the Eternal Light Community to build a vocational school for young people to receive training in skills and traditional subjects, began her service to the church when she was 10.
Now 66, she said she believes her birth on a Corpus Christi day was destined for the path she has chosen having worked at various levels locally, regionally, in London, Africa and other parts of the world.
“My life has been a life that has been poured out for God and for others. I never thought in terms of awards, but in terms of service. Immediately after my confirmation I was invited to teach the children at Sunday school by the Carmelite sisters.
“I have never looked back. I have worked with the church on a local level, on an Archdiocesan level and I have been involved in Catholic Charismatic Renewal for 49 of the 50 years it has been in existence.
“So, I guess this award might just be the church’s way of saying, ‘thank you Deborah for what you have done', and I want to tell them thanks for recognising it and may God receive the praise and glory.”