Anne and Dane MacCarthy, front row centre, were joined by family and friends as they were presented with their papal awards. Photo courtesy MacCarthy family

Vatican honours Toronto couple for their years of service to the Church

  • October 9, 2018

You’d almost think it wasn’t a big deal to Anne and Dane MacCarthy, the Vatican honouring the Toronto couple for their years of service to the Church.

But speaking with the MacCarthy’s, it was an honour for something that came naturally in their daily lives.

“We haven’t done big things,” a modest Anne says, and you can tell she believes it.

The Vatican would disagree though, and informed them in June they were being honoured for their distinguished service to the Church and society with Papal Honours and Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medals. Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins formally presented the awards on Sept. 15 at a Mass at the Crypt Chapel at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica before family and a few close friends. 

Papal Honours are not thrown around lightly. The archdiocese typically awards these to only six to eight people every three years. The Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice is one of five Equestrian Orders awarded directly by the Pope and translates to the “Cross for the Church and for the Pope.” It’s a significant honour for laypeople that was established in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII. 

The couple, married 56 years, have been involved at many levels of the Church, at home and abroad. For almost 40 years they have been been a part of Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME), the marriage enrichment program offered to married couples. They also have been passionate supporters of vocations to religious life, working with the local chapter of Serra International. Individually, Anne has been a big proponent of Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, while Dane continues to volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. And both remain involved in their local parish, St. Basil’s at the University of St. Michael’s College. 

“So much has been given to us, we feel we have to give back,” said Dane.

It’s perhaps their work with WWME that has most defined the MacCarthys’ contributions to the Catholic Church. It began in 1980 when they heard a presentation on the organization at their parish and attended an encounter weekend Enthralled by the experience, they  dove headlong into the organization and eventually took on leadership roles at the provincial, national and international levels. 

“Marriage is not well-recognized outside of the wedding day in the Church,” said Anne. 

So they set out to change things. They have worked as a liaison with both Collins and his predecessor Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic on numerous marriage initiatives and have represented the archdiocese at past World Meeting of the Family events. One of their great achievements in Toronto has been the establishment of Marriage Sunday, which is now celebrated annually in February.

Giving back comes naturally for the MacCarthys. Dane’s originally from Winnipeg before moving to northern Ontario, and Anne was raised in small-town Tweed in eastern Ontario. They recall — fondly — similar stories of their families reaching out to and welcoming outsiders. For Dane, his family would welcome the transient mine workers into their home for Christmas and Easter, while Anne’s parents would embrace the displaced persons from Europe who came to Canada because of the Second World War. 

The MacCarthys have followed their parents’ example, opening their home for extended stays for young people referred by Covenant House, befriending those with special needs and inviting them to share special occasions or inviting clergy for a meal and fellowship in their home.

Anne relates how they have been reading Canadian academic Jordan Peterson’s  book, 12 Rules for Life.  “He says you have to have meaning in life. And I think that’s what we’ve found,” she said.

Now at age 79 for Anne and 80 for Dane, and with both having recent health challenges, you would imagine they would be scaling back and enjoying time with their kids, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. They have to a degree — “We are slowing down,” admits Anne — but they vow to continue serving the Church.

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