Throughout the history of the Diocese of Phoenix, there have only been six lay people who have been recognized by the Vatican for their contributions to the Church.

Two couples were inducted into the Order of St. Gregory, which was established in 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI and named for St. Gregory the Great. Two individuals received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal, which was established by Pope Leo XII in 1888 as a papal distinction.

Papal organizer

Harvey Newquist received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal in 1987 shortly after his work in coordinating St. John Paul II’s apostolic visit to Phoenix. (CATHOLIC SUN file photo)

Harvey Newquist was the first to receive the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (For the Church and the Pontiff) award, appropriately for his work as operations coordinator during St. John Paul II’s visit to the Diocese of Phoenix in 1987.

The medal, also known as the Cross of Honor, is given to Catholics aged at least 45 who have shown distinguished service to the Church and the papal office.

Newquist knew the honor was coming and received the award a year later. His papal work was the icing on the cake, but Newquist also dedicated his time to several Catholic boards and committees and was a member of the Knights of Malta and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.

Supporters of charity

Diane and Bruce Halle of Paradise Valley were inducted into the Order of St. Gregory in 2006.

“They think of the Church locally and they think of the Church around the world. And they engage in the Church’s mission in both,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said at the time.

Diane and Bruce Halle were invested into the Order of St. Gregory in 2006. (CATHOLIC SUN file photo)

Their service extended far beyond the founder of Discount Tire Co. helping the Little Sisters of the Poor and a Valley parish with tires. The couple had their own foundation which they used to support the diocese’s weekly TV Mass, and they supported the restoration of Michelangelo’s last frescoes in the pope’s private chapel. Catholic Charities’ Dignity House — which is a hub for a prostitution diversion program, a Mexican mission and a Native American reservation are also stronger today as a result of the Halles’ support.

Their generosity continues today. Bruce passed away months before he could see the finished product, but the couple’s generosity lives on via the Diane and Bruce Halle Center for Hope and Healing at St. Vincent de Paul’s main campus. It opened in 2018 to expand resource center outreach and better unite transitional housing residents with SVdP programming.

Defenders of religious liberty

Pope Francis invited Alan and Paula Sears into the Papal Order of St. Gregory in 2017. The investiture was held in a solemn Vespers service June 29 at the Sears’ home parish, St. Bernadette in Scottsdale and appropriately amid the nationwide Fortnight for Freedom. Alan, an attorney, founded Alliance Defending Freedom in 1993 to defend religious liberty and headed what became an internationally acclaimed organization until he stepped down in 2017.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted poses with Alan and Paula Sears after receiving the medals of the Order of St. Gregory the Great at St. Bernadette Parish June 29, 2017. (Bruce Ellefson/ADF)

The Sears spent every summer during their child-rearing years on the road while Alan defended not just religious freedom, but marriage and family life and the dignity of human life. At the time of the award, ADF had scored 49 victories at the U.S. Supreme Court, trained thousands of attorneys and law students and staunchly defended religious liberty, life and marriage worldwide.

“Paula’s support of Alan and his work provided him the strength to champion the cause of people who found their beliefs being challenged by modern secular ideologies,” Fr. Frederick Adamson, vicar general and moderator of the curia, said at the time.

Promoter of Catholic education

By fall of 2017, news from the Vatican again reached Phoenix. Bishop Olmsted initiated the process that resulted in Pope Francis bestowing MaryBeth Mueller, longtime superintendent for the diocese, with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal. She formally received it during the Night of Hope, Nov. 4 that year, a signature event she’d established 10 years earlier that celebrates Catholic schools and sustains scholarship money for immediate emergency relief.

MaryBeth Mueller, longtime Phoenix superintendent who retired in May, receives a Guardian of Hope Award at Night of Hope Nov. 4 after receiving her papal medal pinned to her gown. (courtesy photo)

Mueller spent 31 years in diocesan education. She spent six years at Seton Catholic High School in Chandler before becoming superintendent in 1992. She added the title of Executive Director for the Division of Education and Evangelization to her résumé in 2005 and held both until retiring in 2017.

“I don’t believe I did anything out of the ordinary except to use my gifts and leadership as a catalyst to empower others,” Mueller told The Catholic Sun that year. She pointed to the bishops, diocesan school board, principals, teachers, staff and parents working together as the reason Catholic education is thriving in the diocese.

Mueller grabbed the attention of dioceses across America when, in 1998, her office launched a capital campaign — “Today’s Children, Tomorrow’s Leaders” — that raised $33 million for school renovation, expansion and construction of Catholic schools. Seven new elementary schools and one high school opened during her tenure, with another high school’s opening already in the works before

Pre-diocesan honoree

Fourteen years before the Diocese of Phoenix was established, another local Catholic from what would later become the diocese received an award honoring at least 25 years of continuous distinguished service to the Church.

Catholic Phoenix businessman and St. Theresa parishioner Richard “Dick” Walsh was inducted a Knight in the Order of St. Gregory in 1955. He died in October 1969, after the announcement of the creation of the new diocese, but before its actual establishment.

Walsh was president of Walsh Bros. Office Equipment Company for 40 years, but it was his leading roles at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Good Shepherd School for Girls and Catholic Social Service — today known as Catholic Charities Community Services — that helped elevate his knighthood. Walsh also raised funds for many organizations including Regina Cleri Seminary in Tucson and St. Francis Church. His obituary doesn’t specify the location.

What is clear is that “Phoenix churchmen sent job-seekers and men with financial and other problems to Walsh for advice. He was credited with finding jobs for many persons and employing others in his firm, the obituary read.

Walsh, a father of four, was also the organizer and first president of the local Serra Club which fosters vocations to the priesthood.