Pope Francis bestows special honors on two St. Anastasia parishioners

By Gary Walker

Herb Klein and Laurette Lucille Bibeau display their papal awards in the garden of St. Anastasia Catholic Church in Westchester
Photos by Maria Martin

It’s not every day that American Catholics hear from the Vatican. It’s even rarer for a layperson to receive the equivalent of a thank you note from the pope. But Laurette Lucille Bibeau and Herb Klein, active parishioners of St. Anastasia Catholic Church in Westchester, are now among those who have received such an honor.

They are recipients of the church’s Benemerenti Medal, an award for those who have “shown exemplary service to their church, family and community.” The church first began awarding the medals in the 18th century to soldiers of the Papal Army and expanded the honor to clergy and laity in 1925.

“When I received the letter I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. It just couldn’t be true,” said Bibeau, a Westchester resident who has attended
St. Anastasia for 52 years and runs the church’s social club.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles notified Benemerenti Medal recipients in September, with the Vatican choosing just a handful of L.A. area nominees from nominations by priests or monsignors.

“For every pastor it’s always a challenge to choose two people out of each parish who are truly deserving,” said Monsignor Royale Vadakin, pastor emeritus of St. Anastasia.

The Benemerenti Medal is among the highest recognitions of service to the church
Photos by Maria Martin

“Laurette was an obvious choice. What really stood out is her long service. She has served for so long in so many ways,” including as a church usher and Eucharistic minister, Vadakin said.

Klein, head of the church’s finance council, was just as surprised as Bibeau to learn he had been nominated and chosen for a Benemerenti.

“I was kind of taken aback. There are so many worthy people at St. Anastasia,” said Klein, whose wife is a kindergarten teacher at the St. Anastasia Elementary School.

Vadakin said Klein’s contributions are in community service as well as being a dedicated supporter of the school.

“I think one important reason that I chose him was because he has been a tremendous bridge between school and parish. Herb is the president of the Parent Teacher Association and all of his children attended school here,” Vadakin said. “He is fully committed to Catholic education.”

Archbishop of Los Angeles José Gomez bestowed Benemerenti awards to local honorees during an October ceremony at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

During the ceremony, Monsignor Martin Slaughter of St. Gerard Majella Church in Del Rey was conferred the special ranking of Chaplin of His Holiness.

“This is a rare and wonderful occasion. These men and women are a blessing to me in my ministry as archbishop, and I am delighted that the pope is recognizing them for their love of God and their service to the church,” Gomez told the audience.

“It’s rather unusual for someone to receive the Benemerenti because it’s quite an award,” said Loyola Marymount University professor of Catholic theology and theological studies Thomas Rausch. “For Catholics who have distinguished themselves in their community or at their church, it’s a very high honor.”

Klein said he was thrilled to meet Gomez.

“It was fantastic visiting the cathedral,” he said. “I always tell my kids if you want to feel like you’re part of something, then you have to make yourself part of it.”

Even with the medal in her hands, Bibeau still at times can’t believe she received one.

“Sometimes I think they made a mistake,” she said with a laugh.