BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Ginny Knight-Simon has countless stories of the people she encountered during her role as director of the Diocese of Owensboro’s Office of Wisdom.
But one story sticks out to her as particularly poignant.
“One person received the nomination for a Sophia Award,” remembers Knight-Simon, adding that sadly, the woman was on her deathbed on the day of the awards Mass and ceremony.
The woman’s family was present at the Mass to receive the award in her stead. But they also approached Knight-Simon after Mass and asked if she would personally go and present the woman with the award.
Of course, said Knight-Simon.
“She was so happy,” said Knight-Simon in an Aug. 8, 2018 interview with The Western Kentucky Catholic. “She said, ‘I got to see my award.’”
Knight-Simon sat and talked with the woman for a long time.
Before Knight-Simon said good-bye, the woman asked her to place the award on a shelf at the foot of her bed so the woman could see it as she lay there.
The woman passed away shortly after Knight-Simon left.
“She was waiting to see that award,” Knight-Simon realized.
This year, the beloved tradition of the Diocese of Owensboro’s Sophia Awards hits 20 years. The annual Mass, where the awards are given by Bishop William F. Medley, will be held this year on Sept. 9, 2018 at 2 p.m.
Those eligible for Sophia Awards are anyone 65 or older who have not previously received a Sophia Award, and who lead lives of stewardship – giving of their time, talent and treasure. People can be nominated on past outstanding contributions and can be homebound. Recipients have included married couples, single people, priests and religious. Posthumous nominations are also accepted.
Cathy Hagan is the administrative assistant in the diocese’s Office of Stewardship, and oversees and organizes the Sophia Awards nominations and Mass. She took on the role when Knight-Simon retired in 2012.
“From the beginning it was a success,” said Hagan in an Aug. 1, 2018 WKC interview, crediting Knight-Simon’s “outgoing, talented” personality.
In 1999, the United Nations declared it to be the International Year of Older Persons. That same year, said Hagan, Pope St. John Paul II issued a Letter to the Elderly.
This was one of the inspirations for the diocese’s establishing an Office of Wisdom, which for many years hosted bus trips and “Wisdom Days” of formation for older people. Today’s Sophia Awards – “sophia” means “wisdom” in Greek – grew out of this initiative.
“When you get old you feel like your ideas are dismissed because you’re old,” Knight-Simon told the WKC. “This is a good opportunity for the diocese and the parishes to honor their elders.”
Every spring, Hagan sends out requests for Sophia nominations in order to prepare for the awards in the fall.
Letters are then mailed out from the Office of Stewardship notifying the nominees, and include a card on which they can mark “accept” or “decline to accept.”
Occasionally, people decline the award, insisting “I’m not deserving,” said Hagan, who will sometimes call the nominees personally to tell them, “but you are.”
“They don’t realize it’s their very presence in their community” that makes them worthy of the Sophia Award, said Hagan. “It’s not what you’ve done; it’s who you are and how you live your faith.”
Nominees may attend the Sophia Awards Mass and receive the award in person from Bishop Medley, but it is not required.
“If they can’t make it to the Mass, we can send it and their pastor makes sure they get it,” said Hagan.
She said that including the 2018 Sophia Awards recipients, a total of 1,178 awards have been given over the past 20 years. This includes many married couples, who jointly received the award.
It is also a gift that keeps on giving.
“Those who are nominated and receive the award are more likely to nominate someone else to receive it,” said Hagan.
Hagan said the Sophia Awards are a “favorite” part of what she does in the diocese.
“Just the joy on their faces,” said Hagan. “The recognition that they have made a difference and that someone is finally seeing the good works and the wisdom they have shared with their parish, is humbling.”