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My father received the Benemerenti Medal in 1955


My dad after receiving the medal from Bishop Guilfoyle


… for “exceptional service” to the Catholic Church


My father, Hugh B. Conrad, Sr., received a tremendous award in October 1955.


The Benemerenti Medal, instituted by Pope Gregory XVI in 1832, is conferred on those who have exhibited long and exceptional service to the Catholic Church, their families and community. The word Benemerenti means “to a well deserving person.”


This award was established by Pope Leo XIII back in 1888 and is the highest form of recognition that everyday people can receive from the pope.


St. Thomas More College


The award was from Pope Pius XII after recommendations from the local diocese.

My father’s name was presented to the pope for his exceptional service to the Catholic Church. This medal started with one swarded to the Swiss Guards who protected the pope, but then became one to recognize those who served the church with distinction.


The day


Our family attended the service at the Cathedral in Altoona, and I can vaguely remember a little about it. It had a solemnity that was very impressive.


Bishop Richard Guilfoyle presided over this ceremony. According to those guidelines, the diocese sent recommendations to the pope of those in the diocese who deserved it. My father was one of those receiving a recommendation, and it was something very important for our family.


However, while my dad rarely talked about how it felt to receive the honor, he did recall one comic point that no one noticed.


Comic Relief


When my dad approached the kneeler to receive the medal, he inadvertently knocked it to the side a little. Something unusual for a guy who was in great physical shape.

Here is what he said about it, “Bishop Guilfoyle said, ‘Well, Hughie, you really kicked that one’.”


I had questions: Why did he call him “Hughie”? There was a familiarity to that which interested me.


It seems that he and my father had been friendly for years because the bishop was a great basketball fan. As such, my father used to referee the classical, intense diocesan battle between the Altoona Catholic Marauders vs. the Johnstown Catholic Crushers each year. That is where he became friendly with my dad, and they knew one another for years.


Strange little bit of trivia.


Medal


This is a photo of the medal, which my sister has right now. She took this photo. It is really a nice little recollection of that time.






Faith


My dad was a very strong Catholic with an abiding belief in God and in the Roman Catholic Church. He did not preach to us about it, but just became an example of how to live life.


I think that my father's faith came from his mother, Katie Brady Conrad, an Irish immigrant who was a fervent Catholic. They say that faith is a gift, and if so, he was presented with something that he used throughout his life in every aspect of his life


Katie came to this country to join her uncle, Father Philip Brady, who was first an assistant pastor and then a pastor of St. Brigid's. Father Brady also had a nephew who came to the US and served as a priest.


My dad had an aunt named Sister Hilary [Mary Conrad, his father's sister], who was a member of the St. Joseph's order, and his son, Jim, was a priest for 46 years.



Sister Mary Hilary, SSJ, and my aunt, Helen Conrad, in the 1930s in our backyard


That faith was very strong until a short time before he passed away. At that time, he angrily read the story of the abuse of young boys by Father Francis Luddy. He angrily exploded in disbelief and anger.


In much of his life, he attended daily mass, usually at St. Brigid's Catholic Church. He never again entered that church until his funeral mass. His faith would have been terribly tried is he had learned later what was presented in the Attorney General's Report of the abuse in the diocese and cover up by those in charge.


That was difficult to see, and after a long, angry talk about , he never again mentioned it. His heart, however, was broken over that.


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