This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first Cardinal’s Awards Dinner, which every year since 1990 has celebrated “extraordinary Catholics.” On Saturday, Feb. 29, six Cardinal’s Award recipients will be honored at the event, which is expected to bring more than 900 guests to the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Mollie Baumer, Michelle Chandler, Michael Feeley, Carlos Herrera, Dan Schwala, and Paul Viviano will be recognized by Archbishop José H. Gomez for the ways they’ve put the radical demands of the Gospel into practice in Southern California, from helping the poor and the vulnerable, recognizing the life and dignity of the human person, calling fellow Catholics to community and active participation in the life of the Church, and exemplifying the value of the dignity of work and caring for God’s creation.
This continues an annual tradition started in 1990 by the archbishop at the time, Cardinal Roger Mahony, and then-director of Special Services for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Sister Mary Jean Meier, to recognize the work of the Church’s lay leaders. More than 170 have been acknowledged for their service coming into the dinner’s fourth decade.
Proceeds from the 2020 Cardinal’s Awards will be directed toward educational programs in each of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ five pastoral regions. In 2019, it helped St. Patrick School in North Hollywood (San Fernando) and La Purisima Concepcion School in Lompoc (Santa Barbara), and in 2020, San Antonio de Padua School in Boyle Heights (San Gabriel), and two other preschools to be selected from Our Lady of the Angels and San Pedro regions.
Here is a look at how this year’s six honorees have stood out in putting their time, talents, and treasures into action.
Mollie Baumer’s family seems to expand by the number of projects she becomes immersed in.
Her bond with husband John and children Maxwell, Delany, and John Henry is strengthened through a faith life at American Martyrs Church in Manhattan Beach. But outreach with the church’s sister parish at St. Lawrence of Brindisi in Watts has allowed her to pay things forward.
Growing up in St. John Fisher Church in Palos Verdes as the third of six children, Baumer saw the power of giving back through her parents Richard and Pat Meehan. They became friends with the newly arrived pastor of St. Lawrence of Brindisi at the time, Father Peter Banks, and their home became a place for barbeques and pool parties.
Today, Baumer has served more than 10 years on the nonprofit Friends of St. Lawrence-Watts board, which Father Banks founded, helping to fund elementary school and high school scholarships as well support the literacy center on campus.
Having majored in education at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana, Baumer is encouraged, by firsthand experience, how students’ reading success will allow them to thrive more in other subjects. The St. Lawrence literacy program focuses on grades 1-5 to push its reading levels with the help of local tutors, some of whom also went through the program while at the school.
A soccer player in college as well as at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, Baumer has experience in how sports create a community of support, including with her children through the Catholic Youth Organization.
She got on board at the start 10 years ago with the nonprofit St. Sebastian Sports Project, which helps inner-city Catholic athletic programs by giving financial support for uniforms, equipment, and coaching education. With daughter Delany, now attending Marymount High, Baumer became a support liaison for St. Raphael’s Church in South LA.
Baumer’s work with the Campaign Cabinet for the University of Notre Dame, where her son Maxwell currently attends, and as a member of the Archdioceses of Los Angeles’ Development Department Advisory Board, is an expansion of her involvement with many American Martyrs’ activities.
“I see being at church as a moment to give thanks and pray with my family,” Baumer said. “But for me, being out there and interacting with people is where it spiritually comes into play. I think what sums it up best is when you’re in our church and look at the altar, the inscription on the ambo says: ‘Be Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only.’ Our parish is a great example of that.”
Michael Feeley has mastered the art of linking community-driven service with a devotion to global commonality. And the art on the walls of his home in Los Angeles for the last 30 years with his wife, Janet, where they raised sons Declan and Brogan, shows that quite well.
A parishioner of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Westwood, Feeley has used his experience as a law partner with Latham & Watkins LLP to help on the board of the Catholic Schools Collaborate, which fosters holistic communities in inner-city schools. Outreach with the Order of Malta, the LA Cathedral Finance Council, and projects at Loyola High School and Verbum Dei High School, as well as St. Anne’s program of services, are always within his vision as well.
As he retires as lieutenant for the West Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Feeley also feels a connection to a piece of art on display in his living room, one given to him by the organization for his five years of service. It is an icon of Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians, with her arms outstretched over Christian martyrs from the Middle East under her mantle.
“It’s a beautiful expression of how we need to turn to Our Lady and emulate raising our arms in an embrace of the many persecuted Christians throughout the world,” Feeley said.
His admiration of religious artistic expression touches on his involvement with the California Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, a group he chaired for 12 years. Noting that 7 million visitors go to the Vatican art museums each year, Feeley finds the importance of making these works available to anyone, no matter their background, faith, ethnicity, or education level.
“We find art so important because of how it creates the community in our lives as well as the atmosphere that we come home to,” Feeley added. “It’s a living, visual faith expression, the beauty that is what our gracious God is all about.”
Roots in his Catholic faith provided Feeley with stability in a life that, as a young man, took him to nearly a dozen places to live around the world before he was 13.
His father served as a special forces commander in the Green Berets and his mother worked in the State Department. They met in the Iranian capital of Tehran, were married in Japan, and he was born in Okinawa.
“Moving so much as an Army family caused us to make friends quickly, to be rooted in whatever parish we found ourselves because that was a ready-made community that we understood,” said Feeley. “We had a very ordinary Catholic family in the best sense of the word. We had a Catholic vocabulary.
“Community is so important to us as human beings. If we don’t have it, it’s not mentally, spiritually, or physically healthy. The faith community, which is based on the most essential issues of life — who we are, what is our purpose, what is our destiny, how we should treat other people — is the most important aspect we should nourish.”
Also noting that in 2014 Janet Feeley was honored with the Cardinal’s Award for her extensive work, Michael Feeley added, “As usual, I’m always several years behind her. But I just keep following her wherever she’s taking me.”
Growing up as the first of three sisters, Michelle Chandler laughs when she says, “For better or worse, it’s the oldest one who becomes a teacher.”
She majored in English and minored in Spanish at USC, and received a master’s degree in education from UC Santa Barbara, leading to a job as a middle-school English teacher for five years. She soon began work on creating curriculum for teachers to use in the age of internet instruction.
“I was, in all sense of the word, doing well, succeeding in what the world tells us is important,” Chandler said. “But I began to feel a little lost. It took me awhile to find my way home, which is where I consider myself now.”
Ten years after she, husband Mac, and their now-teenage daughters Cora and Willa all became Catholic converts together through RCIA, Chandler’s teaching skills remain vital tools at St. Bede the Venerable Church in La Cañada Flintridge.
She helped spearhead local support of the important national women’s ministry program, Endow. And as a lay member of Regnum Christi, she organizes annual women’s retreats and leads the Challenge Ministry for girls in grades 5-12.
Growing up with a single mom until she was 12, often taking trips from San Diego back to their extended family in Glendale, Chandler said she admired the grounding and stability that she saw in her Catholic friends’ families.
After marrying and living for a time on the East Coast, they moved back to Southern California and became involved with the La Cañada Presbyterian Church. She said, as they both spoke about a longing for the Eucharist, that it was while attending a retreat by the Legionaries of Christ that she heard a calling to convert to Catholicism.
“It was the most profound experience, and I felt there was no option other than a willingness to answer that call,” Chandler said. “Being in the Catholic Church today in La Cañada, I wake up so grateful that this is the life God is granting: a family life grounded in faith, a family that prays throughout the day for the gifts God is giving in good times and challenging ones.”
Carlos Herrera’s actions speak much more powerfully and profoundly than whatever humble words he may choose.
In the 26 years since he founded Interior Removal Services Inc., first in East LA, and now in South Gate, word has gotten out about his enormous heart. A company that specializes in commercial business demolition with 240 co-workers, Herrera’s personal mission is guided by a Catholic compass that extends beyond finding value in things a building tenant has left behind.
In the essence of taking care of God’s creation, he has often found someone else in need who values it even more.
“I’ve seen how recycling brings a community together,” Herrera said. “It’s God’s work in rebuilding.”
As word of mouth got out about the company’s 80,000-square-foot warehouse and recycling compound, dozens of churches and nonprofit organizations such as Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights and Sister Anne Kelly’s Good Shepherd Shelter near Echo Park have been recipients of reclaimed tables and chairs, doors and drywall, extension cords or exit signs. (Even pews and kneelers, too.)
Add to that how the company’s family-focused workforce that often has to spend nights, weekends, and holidays doing difficult labor include former gang members seeking renewed value through Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industry in downtown LA. Herrera has spearheaded an electronic waste recycling program where Homeboy employees thrive.
It makes sense. Herrera has been there himself.
Herrera is the oldest of five from a family that moved from Texas to Colorado to central California, guided by the seasonal migrant field work taken by his mother, Virginia. When the family landed in downtown LA, Herrera and his siblings took pride in becoming “pickers,” spending weekends finding discarded glass and metal cans, redeeming them to help the family survive.
“It was a family affair,” Herrera said. “My mother taught us a migrant work ethic, the importance of giving back.”
Virginia Herrera was able to see her son help rebuild Parroquia Immaculada Concepcion Church in Ensenada, Mexico, with repurposed supplies. She died four years ago, just six months prior to the church’s dedication.
“To donate back, that’s just so easy for me,” said Herrera. “It’s contagious once people know you’re doing this and it’s encouraging to see others do it, too.”
Herrera and his wife, Karina, living in La Habra Heights, appreciate how he was able to give a Catholic education to their sons, Ernesto, Charlie, and Samuel, on journeys that took them to Bosco Tech in Rosemead and St. Catherine’s Academy in Anaheim.
Father Boyle said Herrera is “exactly the person who should be acknowledged for the Cardinal’s Award because Carlos lives as though the truth were true. He knows how to find the marrow of the Gospel and it’s not pious, it’s real. He takes seriously what Jesus took seriously. So I don’t know how people measure spirituality, but I’ll take Carlos Herrera any day.”
As an investment adviser for Morgan Stanley, it’s no surprise to see Dan Schwala at the office before sunrise working with clients.
Add his personal devotion to his ministerial involvement at his home parish of St. Monica, the outreach of the St. Joseph’s Center in Venice and the Good Shepherd Center in Los Angeles, plus his longtime board president leadership at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, it’s just another example that his Midwest upbringing is all about planting seeds that produce fruitful harvests.
“In some ways, my professional life is analogous to what goes on with everything else we do, especially at St. John’s Seminary,” said Schwala. “You see the young men when they enter on Day One, and then seven years later their ordination is a profoundly moving experience. You’re a witness to their discipleship to Christ through your presence on the board.”
Growing up an only child on a remote north Wisconsin dairy farm, Schwala graduated from Catholic Central High in Marinette, Wisconsin, and attended the U.S. Military Academy. Eventually, Schwala came to LA for the MBA program at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management and met his future spouse, Denise Hart.
Journeying as her sponsor in the St. Monica RCIA program, Schwala said he “had a reawakening of my own faith, a rediscovery of my love for the liturgy and our faith traditions.”
The Schwalas taught catechism classes and joined the lector program at St. Monica Church in the mid-1980s. The couple, now married 34 years, helped revitalize the church’s Hospitality Ministry, and they’ve put their energy into the St. Joseph Center’s Voices of Hope annual gala.
Schwala’s involvement with the Cardinal’s Award Dinner committee also led to him, through a meeting with Cardinal Roger Mahony, joining the St. John’s Seminary board to start fundraising in support of the new St. Joseph dormitory.
“St. John’s is known as one of the crown jewels of the archdiocese, but for many years it was also one of the best-kept secrets,” said Schwala, with the board since 2009. Since then, his creation of the annual Distinguished Alumni Gala at the cathedral in downtown LA since 2015 has “helped to convey the message of the paramount and profound importance of the seminary to each person in the archdiocese,” he said.
The seminary recently celebrated its 80th anniversary. It has 104 students now, compared to the 69 when Schwala first joined the board. It has also produced 1,245 ordained priests, 30 bishops, and three cardinals.
“I see a spiritual man of prayer who is also inspirational for me as a leader,” said Father Marco Durazo, the rector at St. John’s since July 2018. “He gives us all a great example of how a man should be internally, a man of great commitment, not afraid to put his hands in the dirt.”
In just more than five years as president and chief executive officer at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), Paul Viviano has kept focus on the organization’s mission, vision, and values by expanding services to provide world-class clinical care to more children.
One example of that is just around the corner from his main-floor office.
In January 2016, the expanded Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation Interfaith Center was established, with Archbishop José H. Gomez delivering its first blessing. Translations of the word “peace” are in six languages across the top entry beam.
“Sometimes, you have to go a long way to find solitude in this city,” Viviano said.
His faith and prayer life was first nurtured growing up as a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in La Habra and continues at St. Bonaventure Church in Huntington Beach where, for the last 30 years, he and his wife, Carole, have raised two daughters and now have four grandchildren.
“I didn’t have an interest in being a clinician, but I saw leadership opportunities that could translate to the health care setting because I fell in love with the notion of supporting caregivers to improve the health of a community,” said Viviano, who did his undergraduate and graduate studies at UC Santa Barbara and UCLA, respectively.
He joined CHLA in 2015 after a career in the UC San Diego Health System, with Alliance Healthcare Services, and as president and CEO of USC University Hospital and the USC Norris Cancer Center. He also spent 14 years helping lead the health care ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange at the St. Joseph Health System.
CHLA has grown to accommodate more than 350 patients a day, and will see nearly 600,000 a year. Three of every four families who come to CHLA are on government medical assistance. A majority of the families are Latinos, meaning many are Catholic. Viviano noted that CHLA was one of the first hospitals in the country to publish research in the area looking at how care from families directly impacts the outcome of a patient’s health.
“Our role isn’t just to provide outstanding care clinically and scientifically with treatments and cures, but also to do so in a highly compassionate setting, which includes providing for the spiritual support of families,” Viviano said. “Because in that context, it helps patients recover more quickly.”
Viviano, who in 2016 was named Loyola Marymount University’s chair of the board of trustees, has many photos, sports memorabilia, and awards in his CHLA office.
Among them is a small plaque on his desk that reads, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
For more information on the event, call 213-637-7520 or visit www.cardinalsawardsdinner.org.