Alan and Paula Sears have been have been named to the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope Francis, the highest honor that can be given to a lay person. They will be invested into the order in a special ceremony at St. Bernadette Parish in Scottsdale June 29. (Photo courtesy of Alan and Paula Sears)
Alliance Defending Freedom

ADF is an organization dedicated to protecting the sanctity of life, religious freedom and conscience rights. With 3,000 affiliated attorneys, offices across the U.S., Mexico, Europe and in India, ADF has scored 49 wins at the U.S. Supreme Court as well as 14 victories at the European Court of Human Rights.

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Investiture Ceremony

When: 6 p.m., June 29

Where: St. Bernadette Parish, 16245 N. 60th St., Scottsdale

A Scottsdale couple’s heroic efforts on behalf of religious liberty, the Church, the sanctity of life, and rights of conscience have captured the attention of Pope Francis.

The Holy Father has bestowed the Church’s highest honor given to a lay person by naming Alan and Paula Sears to the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great. The investiture will take place at a June 29 Vespers service at the couple’s home parish of St. Bernadette in Scottsdale.

Alan, an attorney, founded Alliance Defending Freedom in 1993 in order to defend religious liberty. The internationally acclaimed organization is headquartered in Scottsdale but also has fully staffed offices in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, New York (United Nations), Mexico City and several European cities. With training at Stanford, Harvard, Pepperdine and the University of Kentucky, Alan has had an impressive career, but he gives his wife much of the credit for the distinguished award of investiture into the Papal Order. The couple has been married for 28 years.

“Paula Sears is probably the one who gets most of the credit for getting us here,” Alan said. “When we were being asked to consider leading ADF, none of us knew what it would really fully require.”

With just $4,700 in start-up money, they launched ADF — and a lifetime of hitting the road on behalf of God’s kingdom. “Every child and every spouse that gets caught up in ministry stuff — they don’t ask for it,” Alan said. His ADF work takes him out of town about 200 days a year. That meant that as the Sears’ four children were growing up, Dad was away from home quite a bit.

“In many ways,” Alan said, “she was a single mom.” As soon as the school year ended, the entire family traveled together. For 14 years, every summer was spent moving from city to city and hotel to hotel, Paula taking the kids to a park or mall while Alan worked.

Paula, for her part, gives credit to Alan. “He’s a giver,” Paula said. “Whatever he does, it’s 100 percent. He doesn’t say yes unless he can give 100 percent.” Which might explain the trepidation that Paula felt when she received a call from Dr. Maria Chavira, chancellor of the Diocese of Phoenix.

Paula and Alan Sears spoke with Pope Francis when they travelled to Rome for the Humanum Conference in November of 2014. (Photo courtesy of Alan and Paula Sears)

Chavira called to say that she, alongside Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Fr. Fred Adamson, wanted to meet with the couple to discuss a matter she was not at liberty to disclose.

“We got worried,” Alan said. “We actually went down and parked at the diocese half an hour early and went to St. Mary’s Basilica to pray and ask God to prepare our hearts for the meeting.” The couple had no idea they were about to receive a tremendous honor.

Alan Sears, president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, addressed the affronts on religious freedom Christians face today in the United States during the Catholics in the Public Square legislative seminar Sept. 17, 2016. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

“We walked into the conference room, and there’s our daughter with Fr. Fred Adamson, Dr. Maria Chavira, and a couple of our colleagues,” Paula said. Bishop Olmsted handed them the letter explaining that Pope Francis had made the award.

“Paula and I just started crying,” Alan said. “How on earth did we get picked out of all the great people in the world who do so many wonderful things for God, for His kingdom and the Church?”

Unlike the Order of Malta and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Order of St. Gregory does not require its Knights and Dames to perform any particular duties. The honor is bestowed in recognition of remarkable work in service of the Church. Bishop Olmsted said he was delighted the Searses were chosen for the award.

“This papal honor is a well-deserved recognition of their many years of defending religious freedom, standing up for the true meaning of marriage and family life, defending the dignity and right to life of every human person and faithfully living their lay vocation in their home, their parish and the public square,” Bishop Olmsted said.

Alan and Paula Sears while visiting the Vatican. (Photo courtesy of Alan and Paula Sears)

Fr. Pete Rossa, pastor of St. Bernadette, said the Searses “live the faith day in and day out with joy and humility. It’s such an incredible honor to be recognized by the Holy See in that way.”

After leading ADF since its inception, Alan stepped down as CEO in January. “I’m down to a 50-hour work week,” he quipped. He still travels the country alongside Paula, promoting the vision of ADF. John Delaney, one of Alan’s ADF colleagues, said the couple loves the Church and live their faith.

“They’re dedicated to the Gospel, and they’re dedicated to the love of God,” Delaney said.

The new ADF CEO, Michael Farris, concurs: “I am personally grateful for Alan and Paula’s 23 years of sacrificial service to ADF and, therefore, also grateful to Pope Francis for bestowing them with this incredible honor. It’s amazing to be part of an organization that would not be where it is today without their tireless efforts and service to the body of Christ and beyond.”

Local Catholics Bruce and Diane Halle were inducted into the Papal Order of St. Gregory in the fall of 2006 for their service to the Catholic Church.