Catholic Extension presents its 2023 Spirit of Francis Award

Friday, Mar. 17, 2023
By OSV News

HOUSTON  — Trini Mendenhall told a Houston audience that “as a woman and mother,” it is in her nature “to be nurturing and caring” and to always practice her Catholic faith “by following what our good Lord called us to do: Love one another.”

Mendenhall made the comments at a recent dinner where Catholic Extension presented her with its sixth annual Spirit of Francis Award, recognizing her for two decades of philanthropic service to the Houston community and in the state of Texas.

Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis and Catholic Extension’s founder, Father Francis Clement Kelley, the award recognizes an individual or group who has made a significant impact on the mission of the Catholic Church in America through service or philanthropy.

In 1997, Mendenhall founded the Trini and O.C. Mendenhall Foundation, which empowers women, children and marginalized communities. In 2008, demonstrating her commitment to Catholic education and student success in Houston, the Mendenhall Achievement Center at the University of St. Thomas was established.

In September 2002, Mendenhall established the Mendenhall Asthma Research Laboratory at Baylor’s Biology of Inflammation Center in memory of her late husband.

She received the Catholic Extension award at a Feb. 17 dinner in Houston. Attendees included the 2019 Spirit of Francis Award recipient, retired Bishop Curtis J. Guillory of Beaumont, Texas. The dinner also honored the memory of the late Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, who died Sept. 19, 2022, at age 91.

The prelate headed the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston from 1985 until his retirement in 2006. He was appointed its bishop when it was still a diocese and was made archbishop in 2004 when the diocese was elevated to the status of archdiocese by St. John Paul II.

Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, presented the award to Mendenhall on behalf of “all the people who have been touched by your love. ... We recognize in you and are grateful that you truly embody the spirit of Francis, who recognizes the face of Christ in the poor. Mrs. Mendenhall, you have certainly built up vibrant Catholic faith communities, and God bless you for all that you are.”

Mendenhall said she was humbled and honored to receive the award, adding that philanthropy is for her “the joy of helping the most vulnerable people in our community that makes it all worthwhile.”

She currently serves on the board of the Mendenhall foundation and its Presidential Endowed Scholarship for inner-city Catholic schools, and also is on the board of the College of Education at the University of Houston. She previously has served on boards for many other organizations, including Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Ronald McDonald House and Baylor College of Medicine.

Catholic Extension, which is based in Chicago, said in a news release about the award that proceeds from the Houston dinner will enable the agency to continue to support rural mission churches in Texas “where resources are scarce, but where faith is strong.”

Since its founding in 1905, Catholic Extension’s mission has been to build up Catholic faith communities in underserved regions by raising funds to help these communities. It has served the Catholic Church in Texas by building and repairing over 1,400 church structures in all 15 dioceses in Texas.

It works around the United States, providing financial assistance to build churches and providing resources in the nation’s Catholic mission dioceses, many of which are rural and/or cover a large geographic area and have limited personnel and pastoral resources.

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