Three members of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary ministering in Texas were named the winners of the Lumen Christi (Light of Christ) Award given each year by Catholic Extension.
The three winners – Srs. Carolyn Kosub, Emily Jocson and Fatima Santiago – arrived in the South Texas "colonia" of Penitas, located in the Diocese of Brownsville, in 2003 after a tornado ravaged the poverty-ridden community, and since then have worked with residents to help meet some of their most basic needs.
They created Proyecto Desarrollo Humano (Project for Human Development), an outreach center dedicated to evangelization, health, social services and education. And in 2009, the sisters worked to acquire land and donations of labor and materials to build St. Anne Church for the townspeople. The church sits on what had once been a drug-smuggling corridor. The church was given to the diocese in 2013.
As one Penitas resident said, "Having this church, the community center and these sisters here with us is to have the presence of God among us."
Kosub, in a Sept. 16 blog posting, "The Cowgirl Missionary," wrote about being a Lumen Christi recipient.
"My sisters and I are overwhelmed by the great honor that Catholic Extension has bestowed on our ministry here. The Lumen Christi Award is a strong affirmation of what we have been doing since we began this ministry 10 years ago," she wrote.
"When our Bishop [Daniel E.] Flores [of Brownsville] nominated us, never in our wildest dreams did we think that such recognition would come our way! In reality, the award recognizes not only us but the many people who share in this ministry: staff, Board, benefactors, colonia residents and numerous volunteers. As we often say, 'All of us together are Proyecto Desarrollo Humano!'"
A Texas native, Kosub said, "The old idea that missionaries go to a place to bring God's message is usually overshadowed by the realization that they also find God incarnated in that place. As Pope Francis reminded us in 'The Joy of the Gospel,' the church is not limited to one cultural expression."
Despite what seems like nine-month summers in South Texas, she added, "there is another kind of warmth that trumps the weather. It is the loving kindness and deep faith of our Hispanic immigrant people. Yes, they are what most would call materially poor, but they are rich in qualities that matter much more: family, helpfulness, sharing, joy and – energizing it all – the solid conviction that God is with them."
Catholic Extension has presented the Lumen Christi for the past 37 years to an individual or group who has demonstrated how the power of faith can transform lives and communities.
The award is accompanied by a $50,000 grant to support the recipients' ministry.