The Bensons, Anne and Pat, of Kamloops, B.C. have been honoured with the Benemerenti Medal. The medal honours Catholics who have provided long and exceptional service to the Church. Photo at left from Diane Barker

Bensons touch every part of B.C. parish

  • October 8, 2023

One day while perusing the Internet, Diane Barker discovered the Beremerenti Medal, a commendation awarded by the Pope to clergy and laity who have provided long and exceptional service to the Catholic Church.

The longtime parishioner at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Kamloops, B.C., read the biographies of past recipients from around the world. She quickly concluded the volunteer record of her friends Pat and Anne Benson dwarfed many of those honoured.

“I thought this person got it for this and another got it for that, but Anne and Pat have done all of those things,” said Barker with a chuckle. “Sometimes it’s awarded (to someone) for exceptional service in one area, but they’ve done it in all the areas.”

Barker is not exaggerating.

The Bensons, married for 64 years, have been leaders in every imaginable aspect of parish life. They have guided or contributed to parish council, cathedral maintenance, Catholic education causes, the youth group, the Cursillo apostolic movement, Marriage Encounter retreats, the Light of the World evangelization nonprofit, the Serra Club. Pat is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and Anne is in the Catholic Women’s League. The list goes on.

“They are basically pillars, and once they go, if we don’t have other pillars it will fall,” said Fr. Derrick Cameron, the rector at the Cathedral.

In the typical, inspiring model of grassroots Catholic discipleship, the couple did not pour their time, talent and treasure into the cathedral since 1977, and beforehand at St. Joseph’s Parish in Smithers, B.C., for the sake of fanfare. Barker said when she informed the Bensons months ago of their impending award, their response was to wonder in humility, “why us?”

“It was extremely surprising,” said Anne. “When you are involved and enjoy what you are doing while working with beautiful people, it is so enriching, and it just happens automatically for us anyway. It was really a big surprise.”

A desire to forge bonds with fellow parishioners and seeking to grow in faith kindled the Bensons’ servant’s heart.

“All the experiences we have had working with like-minded people have really enriched our faith a great deal,” said Anne. “It is such a pleasure. It is only by volunteering that you get to know the people of the parish, otherwise people come and go to and from Mass without getting to know anyone at all.”

Four Masses are hosted each weekend at the cathedral. If Anne and Pat did not volunteer, there would be a huge host of congregants they would never encounter.

Pat said it was so natural to start volunteering at the cathedral because the community was so welcoming to his family when they first became members of the flock.

“The cathedral is so nice to belong to because of our parish family,” said Pat. “And the parish family is so important to both of us and our family. When we became a part of this parish 47 years ago, they accepted us right away. We began working with them and helping them.”

While living in Smithers, the couple was heavily involved in fundraising for the new Catholic schools and church being established in the area. The couple also led a very busy life outside of church. Pat worked in the provincial government, first with the forestry department and later as a property assessment expert. Anne, meanwhile, held secretarial and bookkeeping positions.

They moved to Kamloops as parents of four teenagers — one boy and three girls. They made the move to ensure their children could pursue higher education without needing to move far from home.

Over the years the family has grown to include nine granddaughters and three great grandsons.

Only in the past two years has Pat slowed down the volume of his work a bit at the parish because he was diagnosed after a cancer diagnosis.

“I have received a lot of prayers and a lot of people are praying for me,” said Pat. “It is so helpful and has meant so much to me. The Church has blessed me so much.”

As for Anne, she keeps marching on.

“Anne is like the Energizer Bunny,” said Barker, who has worked alongside Anne through CWL and many more causes. “We like to call her that. She just keeps going and going. She said, ‘people tell me I should retire. I say, why? Why wouldn’t I keep doing it?’ ” 

Barker said her hope with Anne and Pat winning this award is that Christians can read their story and come to understand “what two people can accomplish for the Church.” Each person should not feel the need to be involved in every part of Church life like Anne and Pat Benson, she added, but instead focus on taking that first step into rewarding service.

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