TYLER – Bishop Joseph E. Strickland presented George Cronin with the 2016 Bishop Charles E. Herzig Humanitarian Award for his work in building ramps for the wheelchair-bound during a Sept. 11 Mass in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
The late Louis Owen also was given the award, posthumously, for his many years of philanthropy.
The award is named for Bishop Charles E. Herzig, founding bishop of the Diocese of Tyler in 1987 and who died of cancer Sept. 7, 1991. The award was instituted in 2007 by Bishop Álvaro Corrada, SJ, second bishop of Tyler, to honor humanitarian service. It is presented every year on the Sunday nearest Bishop Herzig’s death.
The award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions within the Diocese of Tyler in seeking to promote human welfare. Those who receive the award demonstrate a great charitable love for the people of God and possess a life in the Church marked by actions that have enabled individuals or families to receive basic human care.
Cronin was honored for his years of work with the Texas Ramp Project, a statewide volunteer organization dedicated to building wheelchair ramps for the elderly and disabled who cannot afford to buy one. Established in 2006, the organization has built more than 10,000 ramps throughout Texas.
Cronin is a Texas Ramp Project Coordinator and has been involved in the organization for about six years. In that time, his group has built more than 400 ramps for people in need in Smith, Henderson, and Van Zandt Counties.
“These are people who fall through the cracks,” he said of those he and his crew helps. “They don’t have the money to buy ramps for themselves, which means they depend on someone to physically carry them out of their homes, or just have to stay inside. So we go in, build them a ramp, and give them freedom. It’s a little thing, when you think about it, the ability just to go outside. But when you give that to someone who doesn’t have it, when you see the difference it makes in their life, it kind of gives you a whole new perspective on things.”
Of his work, he said, “it’s what our faith tells us to do. We’re supposed to help those in need around us. You don’t ignore suffering. You just do what you can and try to make a difference.”
Cronin said he was “not really comfortable” with being singled out for the award, but hoped receiving it would focus attention on the organization behind him. The Texas Ramp Project is a non-profit agency, and depends solely on donations to do its work. Information about TRP can be found at its website.
Louis Owen, who died July 27, was a generous benefactor to the Church in East Texas, as well as to the wider community.
Along with his life-long involvement in ministries at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and St. Mary Magdalene in Flint, Owen previously served on the Diocesan Finance Council and as a board member of Catholic Charities East Texas. He was a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
In 2010, to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary, Owen and his wife, Peaches, donated $18 million to Christus Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics to build a seven-story heart hospital. The couple saw their wealth as something to be shared and stewarded.
“It was a godsend to us and we wanted to spread it around to the appropriate places,” Owen once said. “We worked hard, but we didn’t do anything to earn what we ended up with. We’ll just give most of it back. We are our brother’s keeper, and we have to help each other every way that we can.”
In his homily, Bishop Strickland tied the award to the readings for the day, all of which spoke of the mercy of God. In the first reading from Exodus, Moses pleaded for mercy for the people of Israel, who had sinned by making and worshipping a molten calf. In he second reading from 1 Timothy, St. Paul said, “Christ came into the world to save sinners.” The Gospel reading from Luke included the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the Prodigal Son.
The Responsorial Psalm was, “I will rise and go to my father.”
“We hear from the Word of God this morning a basic and simple reminder of the profound gift that Jesus Christ is,” said Bishop Strickland. “He has come to save us from our sins. We remember and always are aware that we are a sinful people. We need God’s mercy, and we rejoice in that mercy.
“I will rise up and go to my father,” the bishop sang. “Those beautiful words from the Psalm are echoed in the story of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel. They’re a beautiful setting, a beautiful refrain, for our celebration this morning. All of us have experienced over and over again (that moment) when we’re aware of our sin, and we turn to the Father. ‘I will rise up and go to my father.’ Hopefully those words will always remind us of a merciful God. We are all those sinners that Christ came to save.”
Yet in seeking mercy, the people of God also are called to show that mercy to others, Bishop Strickland said.
“That is what we celebrate with the Bishop Charles E. Herzig Humanitarian Award,” he said, “an acknowledgement that, from our baptism, we are called to be workers of mercy. … We are called to live Christ, not seeking rewards or honors, but seeking to be an example of what Christ did among us.”
This year’s award nominees, he said, are such examples.
- Lorrie Aalund of Flint was nominated for her ministry to the sick;
- Lucille Cook, Whitehouse, was nominated for her years of ministry to the poor;
- Jim Franz, Tyler, was nominated for his years in Catholic education;
- Tiare McGee, Athens, was nominated for her work with the poor.
- Tom Mittler, Longview, was nominated for his many years of work with Right-to-Life of East Texas and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul;
- Louis Owen, Tyler, honored posthumously for “his wonderful works of mercy, his generosity, and his care for so many in our Tyler community, in the Church and beyond;”
- George Cronin, Tyler, honored “for his tireless efforts with the Texas Ramp Project, building ramps in the homes of those in wheelchairs.”
“What a wonderful concrete work of mercy!” Bishop Strickland said of the work done by Cronin, those who work with him, and the Texas Ramp Project throughout the state. “It’s an expression of God’s mercy showered on the world.”
Bishop Strickland noted that Cronin, upon being notified he was receiving the award, “was quick to say, ‘don’t make this a big deal about me, don’t focus on me.’ In fact, I’m kind of surprised we got George here at all for this,” he added, to laughter from the congregation. “But he is an example of what we all can do, of what we all do, in the lives of our families and communities every day.
“It’s important to have examples to be reminded, as Bishop Herzig was, to transform our sin, to seek God’s mercy, and then to be workers of mercy in the world,” the bishop said. “It’s an opportunity for all of us, and it reminds us of that basic call of the Gospel to acknowledge our sin, to acknowledge that Christ came to save sinners.
“Let us rejoice in the Savior, who came to save us from our sins, to set us free, and to allow us to be instruments of God’s mercy.”