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Women of Faith award recipients 2016

Following are brief biographies of the Women of Faith award recipients for 2016.

 

Charity: Norma Jean Abraham, St. Vincent de Paul medallion

Norma Jean Abraham

Photographer:

Norma Jean Abraham

Charity has been an Abraham family affair for decades. As a founding member of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Norma Jean’s father, Anthony Abraham, set a shining example for her and the whole family to follow. For over 30 years, Norma Jean Abraham has been active in non-profit organizations in our community, including but not limited to Alonzo Mourning Charities, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Children’s Home Society, Food for Life, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, and American Cancer Society. She and her family have supported the Archdiocese of Miami for many years. She has also supported the Glory House of Miami, which focuses on restoring the lives of those exploited by sex trafficking, as well as the Rene Moawad Foundation, which promotes peace and stability in her native Lebanon.

Abraham has received numerous awards over the years, among them: Honorary Trustee by Miami Light Project; “Woman of Valor” by Children’s Home Society; “Miracle Maker” by Big Brothers Big Sisters; “Woman of Distinction and Caring” by the Plaza Health Network; and Barry University’s Celebration of the Human Spirit “Laudare Medal” for extraordinary service to the community, in particular through support of education.

To say that Abraham is active in the community would be an understatement. She sits on the board of directors of the Zoological Society of Florida as well as the Leadership Learning Center at St. John Bosco, where you can often find her visiting with the kids. She is a long time member of the Women’s Committee of Big Brothers Big Sisters and has served on the board of Honey Shine Mentoring Program since its inception, where she has dedicated the past 11 years to helping teens and mentoring young girls.

Abraham has said, “Everyone has a purpose in life, and I’m blessed to have found mine.” She looks forward to continuing to serve the South Florida community for years to come with her newly adopted Schnauzer, “Coco,” at her side. 

 

Grace: Lona Matthews, Our Lady of Grace medallion

Lona Matthews

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Lona Matthews

If you speak to Lona Bethel Matthews, she will tell you, “I am so very, very, grateful that God loves me. God has greatly blessed me! I strive to be a disciple of Jesus Christ to represent Him to others by imitating His love, grace, and mercy.”  

Matthews strives to be the face of Christ, the face of love. She strives to imitate His life of service. Those are her lifetime goals.

As a member of St. Philip Neri Church since she was a child, she can remember her mother, Bernice, instilling in her the importance of knowing, loving, and serving God. Providing a Catholic education for her children was very important to her, and she worked diligently to provide it.

Matthews attended and graduated from Holy Redeemer School and Notre Dame Academy. In the early 1960s, she became St. Philip Neri’s first Catholic Youth Organization president. She and her husband of almost 50 years, Jerome, are extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, where they visit church members who are ill and homebound, hospitalized or in nursing/rehabilitation facilities for many hours on Sundays and throughout the week. She is also a member of the Ladies Guild, Altar Guild, Pastoral Council, Justice Ministry, Stewardship Council, Why Catholic?, Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Bereavement, and the Archdiocese of Miami Office of Black Catholic Ministry.

Matthews tributes coming this far in life to her faith and trusting in God. She gives honor to God by giving generously of her time, talent, and treasure. Her faith grows more and more each day as she witnesses God’s love.


Compassion: María Cristina Díaz, St. Francis of Assisi medallion

Maria Cristina Diaz

Photographer:

Maria Cristina Diaz

Born in Havana, Cuba, María Cristina Díaz learned at a young age the importance of family and faith. Overcoming adversity and leaving Cuba left her with a desire to help those who were unable to follow the same path. 

She has served our Church in a variety of capacities over the years. It started by serving as the chairman of the fundraising and events committee for St. Theresa’s School and the Church of the Little Flower, which led to serving in similar roles at both Belen Jesuit Preparatory School and Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart. 

Díaz has also served on the board of the League Against Cancer for more than two decades, as well as serving the Cuban Association of the Order of Malta. Serving as the chair of the White Cross Ball for the Order of Malta since 2005, she has helped raised significant funds to help the people of Cuba. 

She has been married to Manuel Germán Díaz since 1968 and they have two beautiful children and three grandchildren. 

 

Humility: Dina Mitjans, St. Anthony medallion

Dina Mitjans

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Dina Mitjans

Dina Mitjans is a proud member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. But how we define “member” in this instance is quite unique. Her unwavering commitment to the parish and its community is exemplified through the many roles she plays and the dedication she has to advancing the mission of her church.

Mitjans is a founding member of the Parish Advisory Council and co-chairman of the initial Building Campaign — and for those of you who don’t know, Our Lady of Guadalupe has a beautiful, new church.

Mitjans has utilized her exceptional, creative abilities to develop events and programs to build fellowship within the community as well as generate income to support the various parish services and ministries. Moreover, she volunteers her time, talent, and treasure through her involvement as a lector, service on the Stewardship Committee, and usher.

Her constant and untiring support is an inspiration. She is dedicated to delivering compassion, encouragement, faith and hope to so many who are in need or who have been left behind and are yet to enjoy and share in our nation’s bounties. Her love and desire have helped to change people’s lives. 

 

Faith: Solange Joseph, St. Faith medallion

Solange Joseph

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Solange Joseph

Solange Joseph is a model of Christian faith. From a very early age, she learned what it means to show Christian love through the example of her mother, who provided for neighbors who were poor or hungry. She continued in her mother’s tradition by providing healthcare for those in need in Haiti.

Joseph began her nursing career in Haiti and was a dedicated, passionate healthcare professional for over 30 years. She was born in Petionville, Haiti, and met and married her husband there in 1970. Together they moved to Miami with their two children. They have 5 children and 14 grandchildren and recently celebrated 46 years of marriage.

In the 1970s, as the Haitian community grew in South Florida, Joseph, along with her husband, friends, and many others, helped cultivate a thriving Haitian Catholic following. Through their service and the collective efforts of the Haitian community at Corpus Christi Church and St. Mary Cathedral, the Archdiocese of Miami established Notre Dame d’Haiti Church.

Since her retirement as a registered nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Joseph has become very active at St. Rose of Lima Parish, where she and her family have been members for over 25 years. She is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, an usher, a member of the women's Emmaus group, and was elected as vice president of the Legion of Mary of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This is where she devotes most of her spare time, serving the elderly and infirm.

Joseph is known for her bright smile and willingness to help anyone in need. She credits her faith and acts of service to God's providence and her devotion to Mother Mary.

 

Radiance: Sonnia Viyella, St. Lucy medallion

Sonnia Viyella

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Sonnia Viyella

Sonnia Viyella has worked for over 35 years in the financial services industry, helping families and institutions achieve their investment, financial and estate planning objectives. She and her team manage and advise over $800 million in client assets and over 100 client relationships, including pension funds, financial institutions, corporations, foundations and endowments and families located in the United States and over 10 countries.

Viyella and her husband, Miguel, have been recognized as major volunteers and consistent donors to Children’s Home Society of Florida, one of the largest and oldest charitable organizations aimed at helping underprivileged children in South Florida; she served on the southeastern division board for many years. She is a member of the University of Miami Parent’s Council and a member of the Founder’s Society of Baptist Health of south Florida. 

The Viyellas have been donors and volunteers to the works of the Archdiocese of Miami for many years. They are active supporters of Catholic Charities and the ABCD through their parish, St. Louis, as well as St. John Bosco, a parish dear to Sonnia’s heart. She served as a member of the board of the Leadership Learning Center, a wonderful after school program in Little Havana, for many years.

She has been a member of the South Florida Legatus chapter, a world premier membership organization for Catholic business leaders committed to learn, live and spread the Catholic faith. She was also a member of the Archdiocese of Miami Planned Giving Advisory Council and serves on the board of the Catholic Community Foundation. 

The Viyellas have four lovely children: Ileana, Analy who is married to Rodrigo, Claudia, and Jose Miguel, to whom they have instilled their philanthropic values.

 

Love: Jennifer Mendez, St. Valentine medallion

Jennifer Mendez

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Jennifer Mendez

Born and raised in Miami, Jennifer Mendez was able to receive, with the many sacrifices her parents made, a Catholic education at St. Agatha School and St. Brendan High School. After receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Miami and graduate degree from FIU in school psychology, she worked for several years in the public school system as a reading interventionist and school psychologist in poor neighborhoods.  

Seven years ago, Mendez was able to return to her high school alma mater and work alongside amazing and dedicated high school counselors. Currently, she is the college counselor at St. Brendan High and the co-director of the ALPHA program, which is a program for their academically driven student leaders. As a college counselor at St. Brendan, she is able to witness high school seniors transform throughout their final year in high school into young adults who are open to and excited about the possibilities that God has awaiting them in college and beyond. Her love for working with students is fueled by the students’ inquisitive nature, their excitement, and even their apprehension. The love shown by the students, faculty, and staff serves as a constant reminder of God’s love in her own life.

Mendez has been married to Ray for nine years, and feels he is the true example of God’s love in her life. She says, “He reminds me to laugh at myself, be kinder to myself, and to walk this life with joy.” They have a beautiful, energetic, inquisitive, and loving 3-year-old daughter, Gianna, who has also just begun her Catholic education at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart. 

Mendez said receiving this award is a “strong reminder that we are all loved by God, despite our human imperfections.”

 

Youth: Sandra Cardenal, St. Maria Goretti medallion

Sandra Cardenal

Photographer:

Sandra Cardenal

Sandra Cardenal is a senior at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy. Her family has made the commitment to providing her a Catholic education since she was three years old, and that has made all the difference in her life. 

She began her journey at St. Louis Covenant School where she studied for 11 years before enrolling in her current high school. During that time and even now, she is an active member in her parish, St. Louis Church. She has volunteered as a one-on-one special needs assistant in their Religious Education Program and has taken up a position as teacher to first grade students this year.

Sandra is also extremely involved in her high school's campus ministry and is a part of the peer ministry program, where she is responsible for leading on-campus retreats for the underclassmen.

Beyond volunteering at her parish and school, during one summer she visited a poor local school in Managua, Nicaragua, called Pan y Amor, on a mission trip with an organization named Little Pencils. She wanted to continue to help the cause from South Florida so she started a uniform collection at her school during her sophomore year and named it Little Uniforms. It collects blue and white school uniforms to be donated to the school in Nicaragua. She aims to continue this program even beyond graduation. 

 

Motherhood: Natalie Bauta, Virgin Mary medallion

Natalie Bauta

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Natalie Bauta

Natalie Bauta has lived most of her life in Florida, where she attended John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce. She tributes that as a life-changing experience because she had always attended public school prior to that. As a shy young girl, she flourished in the smaller Catholic environment and was active in the Christian Service Club and retreats. 

Subsequently, she attended Florida State University where she received a bachelor’s in communication and two masters in urban and regional planning as well as public administration. It was at FSU that she met her husband, who attended Florida State University Law School. They married shortly after graduation at St. Patrick’s on Miami Beach. 

After working for a few years with Dade County as an environmental planner, Bauta gave up her career to have children, which coincided with a conversion experience which drew her closer to Jesus and Our Lady. She and her husband, Juan, have six children, ranging in age from 9 to 22, but have also lost six children through miscarriages. She homeschools all of their children. Being a mother has been the experience of her life. 

Sprinkled in the midst of childrearing, both she and Juan have attended Emmaus and the Life in the Spirit seminar. They taught baptism classes at St. Patrick’s and served as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. When they moved to Pinecrest, they became involved in several St. Louis ministries. Bauta has helped on Emmaus, Bible Camp, New Life Youth Ministry, and Parish Missionary Disciples. She led worship for the Catholic Bible Fellowship and led a small group of pre-teen and teens within the adult Bible study. 

She also serves on the Pastoral Council and as a ministry head, along with her husband, for the Life in the Spirit seminars for kids, teens and adults. Together, they organize 5 Nights of Fire, a 5-night long charismatic event at St. Louis, and are also sacristans for the daily 8:30 a.m. Mass.

She credits her ability to fulfill her vocation as a wife and a mother to the grace of God. Through that beautiful vocation, she has found God’s presence everywhere. In drawing close to Our Lady, she is able to recognize the incredible blessing in being a spiritual mother not only to her children but to all she encounters in ministry and in her daily life. She believes that all women are called to be spiritual mothers by their love, compassion and encouragement to holiness. 

 

Wisdom: Cari Canino, St. Sofia medallion

Cari Canino

Photographer:

Cari Canino

Cari Canino has always exemplified the qualities of passion, dedication, and commitment in her role as a wife and mother, as well as in the position of an educator and the principal of St. Gregory School.

Canino emigrated with her parents to Miami from Cuba at the age of two. She and her husband Ralph have been married since 1987 and have one daughter, Jessica. Their daughter has always been their pride and joy, and they share a very close family bond.

Prior to her work in education, Canino worked in fashion merchandising, managing several retail stores and boutiques. Her decision to go in to the field of education was motivated primarily by her desire to be with her young daughter, but also her desire to help other children.

As an educator and administrator, Canino has spent over 25 years developing the full potential of children, as she feels each child is unique. Her career in education began as a preschool teacher and eventual director of La Petite Academy. Recruited by Msgr. Noel Fogarty, she became the founder and director of the pre-school program at St. Gregory the Great School. In 2008, she was appointed principal of St. Gregory School and has served in that capacity ever since. In her free time, she and her husband, Ralph, help out at their daughter's dance studio, where they both serve in administrative roles.

Canino is not only committed to imparting an educational and faith-filled foundation at St. Gregory School, but also to instilling the value of service. The children of St. Gregory are taught from an early age how to give back to their community by her everyday example and through a variety of service project opportunities each year. She accentuates the importance of giving back and as a school leader she can be found working right alongside her team. A sample of the people and organizations the school has donated to include: U.S. military soldiers, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, Broward County Foster System, Hope Outreach, St. Vincent De Paul, and Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies.

Canino works year round to not only make a difference in her school, but also to have a positive impact in the lives of the students, parents, teachers, and the community. She has always taught her daughter, her students and her faculty that their passions and special talents are needed to make the world a better place.