News & Events

Sister Rita earns Papal honor

August 23, 2013

People tell Sister Rita she is a special person all the time. Patients, family members, staff, visitors, volunteers — nearly everyone who has had contact with our Director of Pastoral

Care knows what a difference she can make.

She can add one more person to her fan club: a fellow named Francis. He’s not from this area; recently moved to Rome.

Yes, that Francis: the head of the Roman Catholic Church, spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, and successor to Saint Peter.

On behalf of the Pope, the Most Rev. Michael R. Cote, Bishop of Norwich, presented Sister Rita with the Cross of Honor.

Sister Rita received the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” medal, which is given in recognition of distinguished service to the Church and Pontiff. The award, dating back to Pope Leo XIII in 1888, translates “For the Church and the Pope.” According to the Diocese of

Norwich, it is the highest medal that can be awarded to the laity by the Papacy.

“It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve been struck speechless,” the usually outspoken Sister Rita said with a laugh. “I don’t deal well with the spotlight. I do what I do because it is my calling. Still, I can’t deny this is a great honor. I’m humbled.”

Sister Rita has been a chaplain at Backus for 32 years. In that time, she has provided pastoral care in as many forms as it can possibly exist. She has been present to pray with patients during illness; grieve with families after a death; celebrate with parents at a birth; counsel individuals, couples and families in distress; make final arrangements.

“Sister Rita is a special part of Backus, and the only way to describe her ministry here is to call it a gift,” said Dave Whitehead, President and Chief Executive Officer. “Every day, Sister offers the gift of being fully present — engaged in the hard work of caring for our patients, families and community’s spiritual needs. We are so proud of her.”