Two to Receive St. Catherine of Siena Distinguished Layperson Award During Voice of the Faithful 10th Year Conference in Boston

NEWTON, Mass., Aug. 10, 2012 – Two Roman Catholic lay people will receive Voice of the Faithful’s® St. Catherine of Siena Distinguished Layperson of the Year Award during VOTF’s 10th Year Conference in Boston next month. This recognition represents only the fourth and fifth times in its 10-year history VOTF has presented the award.

The recipients are authors and educators Joseph F. O’Callaghan, Ph.D., Norwalk, Conn., and Phyllis Zagano, Ph.D., Hempstead, N.Y.

The St. Catherine of Siena award recognizes exemplary lay leaders who enthusiastically use their gifts in the Church’s service and whose example encourages all Catholics to use their talents for the betterment of the Church.

“Catherine of Siena’s deep faith propelled her to care for those labeled as least in her society,” said Mary Freeman of Saunderstown, R.I., award committee chair. “Neither hardship nor schism, war nor persecution detained her from being about the Lord’s work. Through her convicted faith, she was an innovator who was led by the Spirit and an agent of change in the tumultuous events of her lifetime. The Church ultimately recognized her contribution by proclaiming her both a saint and a Doctor of the Church.”

O’Callaghan, an historian, educator, philosopher, lecturer, author and activist, has exemplified such service as a champion for the wounded and victimized. “As a founding member of VOTF in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., Freeman said, he personifies the virtues of courage and honesty, humbly speaking truth to power while seeking justice for survivors, support for priests of integrity and change in the hierarchical Church.”

O’Callaghan is a professor emeritus of medieval history at Fordham University, New York, N.Y., and former director of Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies. He is past president of the American Catholic Historical Association and the Academy of American Historians of Medieval Spain. His articles have been collected in several volumes and have appeared in the American and Catholic Historical Reviews and several Spanish-language publications.

In his involvement with VOTF in Bridgeport, O’Callaghan has written “Who We Are and How We Came to Be,” a history of VOTF in the Bridgeport Diocese; “Bless Me, Father, For I Have Sinned,” a dramatization of court documents from priestly sexual abuse trials; and “Electing Our Bishops: How the Catholic Church Should Choose Its Leaders.”

“I am deeply honored to be a recipient of the St. Catherine of Siena Distinguished Layperson Award,” O’Callaghan said. “I want to share it, however, with my sisters and brothers of Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport. Each one of them has unselfishly contributed his or her special gifts to the reform and renewal of the Church that we love. Everyone is essential to the well-being of the Body of Christ. No one’s gifts may be spurned. Let us pray that our bishops will soon realize that, by themselves, they are not the church. Let us pray that they will actively encourage all the faithful to share their gifts in the task of building up Christ’s kingdom here on earth.”

O’Callaghan’s nomination for the award read, in part: “We nominate Joseph O’Callaghan for the St. Catherine of Siena Distinguished Layperson Award because of his courageous and unflagging devotion to the suffering and the disenfranchised, to the Church he loves and to those whose faith is daily challenged by a Church out of touch with its people.”

Zagano, a theologian and public scholar, is an internationally recognized specialist in Catholic studies. Currently, she is research associate and adjunct professor of religion at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y. She has worked, written and spoken widely in support of women in the Catholic Church. Among the 15 books in religious studies she has written or edited, Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church received the 2002 Catholic Press Association and College Theology Society Annual Book awards. She has published hundreds of articles and reviews in popular and peer-reviewed journals, and the Spanish-language translation of her best-selling book On Prayer: A Letter for My Godchild won a 2004 Catholic Press Association Book Award. She presently is preparing studies of women in the Church today and women religious monastic rules and is editing a series of anthologies on “Spirituality in History.” She also writes the column “Just Catholic” for National Catholic Reporter and is a founding co-chair of the Roman Catholic Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion.

“I have a deep devotion to Catherine of Siena, who is a model for all of us who hope for reform of corruptions in the church,” Zagano said. “Just as Catherine was a catalyst for ending the crisis of the Avignon captivity of the papacy, I hope my writing and speaking can help free the church as a whole from the devastating grip of scandal caused by a few.”

Zagano’s nomination for the award read, in part: “Dr. Zagano’s faith, courage and aptitude for unprecedented action against all odds demonstrate her hope that, in addition to speaking to ‘grassroots’ Catholics, she can educate the hierarchy regarding the historical reality of the ordination of women to the diaconate and its possibilities for the future. … Her rare and dedicated combination of deep personal faith, bold courage and unwavering persistence is forcing the conversation on behalf of all women in the world.

VOTF established the St. Catherine of Siena Distinguished Lay Person Award in 2002, naming it after St. Catherine because she took effective action against corruption in the Church wherever she found it, undeterred by the difference between her humble origins and the high Church rank of the men she addressed. An outstanding example of this was her direct appeal to Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome and end the Avignon papacy (1309-1378). (Seven popes resided in Avignon during this time instead of Rome because conflict between the papacy and the French monarchy had resulted in subordination of Church power to the monarchy.) St. Catherine also is a noted theologian and Doctor of the Church and is well known for her mysticism and generosity to the poor.

VOTF’s 10th Year Conference takes place Sept. 14-15 at the Marriott Copley Place Hotel, Boston, Mass. The St. Catherine of Siena Distinguished Layperson Awards will be presented following the banquet on Sept. 14. Information and registration is available at

Voice of the Faithful®: Voice of the Faithful® is a worldwide movement of concerned mainstream Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and increase the laity’s role in governance and guidance of the Church. More information is at

Contact—Nick Ingala, 781-559-3360 Office, 617-291-3495 Cell,