A Medal of Honor for ‘ordinary people’ who serve others

A Medal of Honor for ‘ordinary people’ who serve others


The Rev. Tom Hoar is the prime mover behind the Medal of Honor awarded annually to ordinary people doing extraordinary work. | (Michael Souza / The Westerly Sun)

MYSTIC — Ten years ago, the Rev. Tom Hoar from St. Edmund’s Retreat felt it was important to acknowledge the good works of people who have helped others. The idea had been in his mind for a while and ultimately he created the annual St. Edmund’s Medal of Honor. Today the honor is still going strong.

On Friday, five recipients will be awarded the medal at a black-tie affair at the Mystic Marriott in Groton.

“The purpose of it is to celebrate ordinary men and women who live their lives extraordinarily well, serving both the people of God and the people of the community,” Hoar said.

The Enders Island retreat is run by the Society of Saint Edmund, a Catholic religious congregation named after St. Edmund of Canterbury (1174 – 1240), a builder, scholar and professor at Oxford University. He was a great preacher and an advocate of the poor.

“For years I wanted to create an award that took his character and celebrate it in ordinary people,” Hoar said.

People, he believes, expect to hear him preach about feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.

“But to hear it from ordinary men and women who do extraordinary things because they’re motivated by the values and virtues of the Gospel is something to celebrate,” he said. “We live in a world where so many people are searching for meaning and purpose, a sense of hope and fulfillment. That’s why we celebrate these people that have done such wonderful things in the community.”

The decision to hold a dinner at an outside venue and to make it a black-tie affair was a conscious one. The medal is a high honor and reflects the significance of the work accomplished by its recipients.

Recipients do not have to be local. They can come from anywhere and from all walks of life.

“They can affect our neighborhoods, our region, our nation and ultimately we can change the world,” Hoar said. “We can change the world by caring for one person at a time.”

Nominations come from anywhere and often do, from a religious official in California to a neighbor in downtown Mystic. There are no minimum requirements and it’s open to all religions. Some nominees have a résumé of impressive professional accomplishments and others don’t; all that matters is their virtue. Final decisions are made by the St. Edmund’s board of trustees.

One of this year’s honorees is Mystic’s own Margaret Taber. For the last 25 years she’s run the Taber Inne. She and her husband bought the property with different intentions, but its location in a historical area prevented them from making drastic renovations. Undeterred, she has run the inn and remained a source of help for those in need ever since her move.

“Margaret Taber has been a member of this community, a lot of times doing things very quietly, a lot of generous and kind things,” Hoar said.

Taber, 86, is a survivor, having twice beat cancer. She’s lived in Mystic for 58 years and is a parishioner of St. Mary Mother of the Redeemer in Groton Long Point. She is humble and although very appreciative, is almost shy when it comes to talking about how she has helped the community.

“I don’t think it has been extraordinary, I just think it’s a natural thing to do, help the poor that nobody helps,” Taber said. “I didn’t volunteer with organizations because I didn’t have the time, working and raising three children. I’ve just helped the people nobody can help because they are not in a position to,” she said. “There are children starving, there are pipes frozen, women on chemotherapy with no husband or a family with no oil. There are meals to prepare and not just Christmas dinner but dinner for every night.”

Living in the community for so long, she knows a lot of people. If she heard of someone in need she was right there to help, all out of her own pocket. Whether it be a superstorm or a blizzard, her door has been open with food and a fireplace for those less fortunate. Come Thanksgiving she prepares about ten meals — sometimes twice that — every year for people in the area. And she’s embraced such efforts for more than 30 years.

“I was raised that way. My mother and father were the same. They had a farm and they would give half their crops away when everything was rationed” during World War II, she said.

Other award recipients are Peter Balestracci of the Knights of Columbus, Mystic; Maria McFadden Maffucci, The Human Life Foundation, New York City; U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, North Stonington; and the Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston. The 2013 St. Edmund’s Honor Scholarship recipient is Marianna Vega of the St. Bernard School Class of 2014.

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