Congratulations to Maria Thomas, Woman of the Year, and Brooke Balog, Youth of the Year! Thank you for your service to our community and for the example of Christian service that you provide for us all! This morning both Maria and Brooke were honored at a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Hartmayer.
On Sunday, March 13, they were recognized at the Sunday 5:30pm Mass.
MARIA THOMAS: WOMAN OF THE YEAR
This year Our Lady of the Assumption has named Maria Thomas our OLA Catholic Woman of the Year. It’s a well deserved honor for someone who truly embodies the idea of a life well lived is a life of faith and service to others. For Maria, the two go hand in hand. In writing this, I have to be candid that this reflection will be both a surprise and maybe a little embarrassing for her. For she truly embraces the Marist creed of being hidden and unknown; preferring to serve quietly, humbly and never seeking the spotlight. Those of you who know her, know this to be true.
Maria and I joined the OLA parish over 20 years ago and from day one she jumped into numerous ministries. When it comes to service, she is a force to be reckoned with and will not be outdone. So much so, that we have a running quip that she should slow down raising her hand and give others a chance to put their faith into action! Maria loves our community and the OLA Parish dearly. At any given time, she is involved in no less than 3-5 ministries and has been since we joined.
Over the years, Maria has served the OLA community in many different capacities, including to help raise funds for the construction of the church building we use today, serving on numerous Christ Renews His Parish retreat teams, being a Minister of Care – taking communion to those in the hospital, providing leadership to various small faith groups, being a Eucharistic Minister and serving with St. Vincent de Paul among others.
Currently she serves on the Parish Council, she is the Co-founder/Leader of OLA’s middle school Mission Camp where she leads middle school youth from our community on a week of combining faith and service to our community. She teaches Spanish in our parish pre-school, attends weekly Adoration, and is involved in several bible studies and prayer groups.
Maria takes on these roles with dedication and a willingness to serve our parish community and to live out her deep and abiding faith. Her altruism extends beyond our parish borders and our Catholic community. Maria is passionate about serving those struggling with various mental health conditions. She has taken classes through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and participated in parish discussions about how to better serve those suffering from disabilities. Additionally, she works one on one with families outside our community whose children are struggling with mental health conditions to both help console the family but also to help provide guidance based on her advocacy experience.
Maria lives in Brookhaven with me, her husband, Richard and loves caring for her three boys (Sebastian, Benjamin, Abraham) and daughter, Mariana. We are so blessed that she is in all of our lives. Congratulations on this well-deserved honor. I could not be more proud to call you my wife and to be a witness to the wonderful example you set each and every day for our kids, our extended family and friends as well as our greater OLA community.
- Richard Thomas, Proud Husband
BROOKE BALOG: YOUTH OF THE YEAR
Our Youth of the Year for 2022 is Brooke Balog! Brooke has served our parish in a number of ways over the past several years and we are very excited to give her this honor.
Brooke has been a steady presence at any and all Youth Group events over the last couple of years, and has showed a willingness to step up to volunteer for anything big or small; whether it’s leading the group in a prayer or helping with an activity we are doing that evening, she can always be counted on! In addition to this, Brooke has served as a Confirmation Teen Leader in the last two years where she has led and walked with several of our teens as they prepare to be Confirmed. Both by leading small groups and sharing her testimony with the entire group, Brooke has helped make our Confirmation Program an incredible experience over the couple of years as a leader. She has also served as an Extraordinary Minister at the 5:30 Sunday Mass! She stepped up yet again in January when we needed her to serve as a small group leader for this year’s In His Steps Retreat at St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, AL, where she did a lot to ensure that the retreat was a great experience for our younger participants!
Outside of OLA, Brooke stays very involved as a Senior at Marist School! She is an Honor Roll student and serves as a Manager for the Varsity Dive Team and Varsity Baseball team. She also participates weekly in Younglife. Outside of school, Brooke plays tennis and volunteers with Special Pops, an organization that teaches tennis to those with special needs. She also volunteers on mission trips with Pacific Hope MV, where she served all last summer.
It’s been a joy getting to know and work with Brooke. She truly gets what it means to be a leader and always goes above and beyond what is asked of her! We will miss her immensely when she goes off to college in the Fall.
Brooke plans to attend Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama to major in business management with a minor in international relations with hopes of getting involved in the nonprofit world of business.
Congratulations Brooke! Thank you for serving our parish community so well.
- Andrew Knuckles, Youth Minister