Oklahoma City – Members of the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree recently honored two well-known Oklahomans at the annual awards ceremony of the Chief Justice Kane Assembly.
The event was held after a Saturday Vigil Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, where Father William Novak, pastor, and Father Linh Bui, Parochial Vicar, con-celebrated.
Debbie Espinosa of the Center of Family Love and Deacon Larry Sousa from Norman’s St. Joseph Catholic Church shared the Assembly’s top honors for 2023.
Debbie Espinosa – Chief Justice Matthew John Kane Award
Paul Weigl, a past faithful navigator for the Kane Assembly, shared humorous vignettes about Espinosa, who he characterized as a “trouble-maker” when they grew up in the neighborhood surrounding Our Lady’s Cathedral in Oklahoma City, including years as students at the parish school, John Carroll.
A lifelong resident of Oklahoma City, Debbie attended Bishop McGuinness and St. Gregory’s College. She earned her nursing degree at the University of Oklahoma, then built a national reputation working at Deaconess Pregnancy & Adoption Services, the Integris Baptist Home Health Agency and Father Paul Zahler’s National Institute on Developmental Delays.
Working as chief executive officer at the Center of Family Love in Okarche for the past decade, Espinosa was named the 2019 Person of the Year by the Notre Dame Club of Oklahoma City.
CFL is a residential care facility serving 130 adults. Weigl said "Her love for building businesses, leading teams, and her desire to make a difference in the lives of others, is what energizes her and drives her to excel.”
During Espinosa’s tenure, CFL’s annual Gift of Love Gala has raised over $8.4 million year-to-date.
CFL’s current goals include "completing a 70,000 square foot state-of-the-art educational building, the Oklahoma Institute for Cognitive Development, aiming for “capacity to serve an additional 600 individuals with developmental disabilities.”
CFL plans “cutting-edge programming, paired with professional training and development” to celebrate “the value and dignity of every human life and ensuring that those with disabilities can discover their talents, as they reach for and achieve their dreams."
Debbie and her husband Sid have three children, and seven grandchildren, all of whom reside in Oklahoma City.
Accepting the Chief Justice Kane Civic Award, Espinosa thanked “Knights, and the women in the auxiliary.” She noted, “The Center of Family Love is a result of the vision of the Knights. Without them, this could not have happened. You are the ones who provided the resources and the vision.”
Deacon Larry Sousa – Excalibur Award
Lou Falsetti, past faithful navigator for the Kane Assembly and one of the event organizers, shared a recorded message from Jeff Finnell of Oklahoma Catholic Radio – who missed the dinner due to the passing of professional business colleague.
Finnel praised Deacon Sousa for his pivotal role in Oklahoma’s recent history. Finnell recounted the stirring story of the state radio network, which emerged from efforts starting two decades ago to establish a recurring presence for Catholic news and information.
Inspired by the example of Mother Angelica, foundress of the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), Finnell and Sousa invested personal fortune, time and energy, taking the idea from a weekly program to its present status as a 24/7 broadcast entity featuring both state/local programming and EWTN’s world-wide news and information programs.
Accepting the Excalibur Award, Sousa recalled taking the vision to Oklahoma City Archbishop Eusebius Beltran in 2006. Beltran believed in what Mother Angelica was then doing, as did Sousa and Finnel. Their shared perspective was to “step out in faith,” believing “if God wants this to happen, it will happen.”
In frequent calls, meetings and fund-raising efforts, they reminded each other: "We just need to trust in Him and He will provide.” Along the way, members of the Knights assisted the pair. Today, Sousa says, Catholic Radio has “changed thousands of lives for people in prison, and in religious education programs.”
Sousa commented on “how beautiful” dedication ceremonies for the StanleRother Shrine, which had just taken place, were. “How proud it was to for all of us to be Catholics in Oklahoma at this time.” He affirmed: “People like Stanley Rother are our heroes.”
Sousa counted his blessings after 45 years as a permanent deacon, and 51 years as a member of the Knights.
The Kane Assembly Awards
The awards were presented at the annual dinner of the Chief Justice Kane Assembly, Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree. St. Francis of Assisi, just south of Oklahoma City University, hosted the event, which began in 2000. After a two-year absence during the worldwide Pandemic, the February 2023 gathering renewed tradition.
Founded in 1882 by Father Michael McGivney – a parish priest in New Hampshire – the Knights of Columbus from their founding have provided practical assistance as a Fraternal Benefit Society. The concept eventually grew into an insurance program to support families.
The Fourth Degree, Patriotic arm of the Knights, was founded in 1900 and holds gatherings every year on or near the birthday of George Washington. In Oklahoma, the Kane Assembly was established in 1920. It honors Matthew John Kane, the first Catholic to hold statewide office in Oklahoma history, as chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
The Kane Assembly’s annual banquets honor members of the Knights with the Excalibur Award, while the Civic award is presented to Oklahomans who have contributed significantly to the common good.
Master of Ceremonies Louis Lyon, current Faithful Navigator of the Assembly, detailed the story of Father McGivney.
Catholics of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century faced discrimination. The widows and families of Catholic working men had no means of support if bread-winner died. A $1 assessment per Knight assessment would be collected after brother Knight’s death -- with the money presented to the widow. From that seed eventually came the world’s largest fraternal insurance program.
In brief comments before his invocation, Father William Novak – pastor at St. Francis of Assist and Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City -- recalled that Father Stanley Rother, a native of Okarche, had been ordained at Our Lady’s Cathedral on May 25, 1963.
In that same church was held the funeral for Father Rother after his murder at the parish church of Santiago Atitlán in Guatemala in July 1981.
Preceding dedication of the Rother Shrine, the casket containing Rother’s body was honored at Our Lady’s parish in a vigil and vespers service the night of February 2 and early morning of Feb. 13.
Novak praised the visibility of the Knights at the dedication events.
Before his closing prayer, Father Lin Bui – parochial vicar at St. Francis -- said, “The Knights helped me when I was in the seminary. This big check came in the mail to support me in my studies. I did not ask for it but humbly accepted it! Your work to support vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are appreciated.”
In his Benediction, Bui asked God to “Bless those who help our priests and the sisters. And those who prepared this event. Guide us, that whatever we do, we do for You.”
Note: This report is expanded from a story first published in March 12 print edition of The Sooner Catholic. Pat McGuigan of The City Sentinel joined the Knights of Columbus in 1983 while working in Washington, D.C. Pat is a past Grand Knight of the Knights Oklahoma Council No. 1038, and a Past Faithful Navigator of the Chief Justice Kane Assembly, which sponsors the Kane Awards.



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