Parishioner Bernard Cooper had the surprise of his life when he was presented with the Bene Merenti medal at Our Lady and St Rose of Lima in Weoley Castle, Birmingham.

Unbeknown to Bernard, who recently retired from his role as Clergy Welfare Coordinator at the Archdiocese of Birmingham, his youngest son Mark had nominated him to Archbishop Bernard who in turn petitioned the Holy Father.

The Bene Merenti is awarded by the Pope to members of the clergy and laity for service to the Catholic Church.

A letter from Archbishop Bernard states: “You have been given this great honour in recognition of your faithful and loyal service to the Catholic Church, especially for your dedicated work and steadfast involvement in the parish of Our Lady and St Rose of Lima and the wider community.”

Bernard was presented with the medal by his parish priest and area Dean, Fr Gary Buckby, at a recent Saturday evening Mass.

“I was overwhelmed, very emotional and lost for words (until my brief impromptu speech later in the parish hall over champagne!)” said Bernard.

“The penny never dropped until Fr Gary’s heart rendering and glowing speech at the end of Mass, telling the congregation about my 63 years’ varied services for the church, and inviting me up with my wife, Eileen.

“It has been a most surprising, humbling, and emotional experience to be nominated by my son, Mark, and the Archbishop, on behalf of the Archdiocese and my parish, and to receive a big ‘thank you’ in recognition and appreciation from the Holy Father.”

Bernard has had a huge involvement in the Church, which started with serving on the altar before the age of seven. He served continuously until the pandemic struck in March 2020 - 60 years - and was Master of Ceremonies at St Rose’s and his previous church, St Mary’s in Harborne. In 2011 he was awarded the Gold Medal for 50 years’ service in the Guild of St Stephen for Altar Servers and has trained probably many hundreds of Altar Servers over the last 60+ years.

Since 1990, Bernard has been a Lay Reader and Eucharistic Minister and trained parishioners in both of these roles and organised their rotas, in addition to taking the Eucharist to the sick and housebound. He has also acted for many years as the parish Secretary for the Clergy Training Fund and the APF Missio Red Box appeal.

For several years Bernard was a part-time Chaplain at Birmingham Queen Elizabeth Hospital, having gained a Certificate from Maryvale in Lay Chaplaincy work.

He has also supported parish events and served as a Parish Councillor and Finance Committee member. For nearly six years Bernard was a member of the school governing body at St Peter’s in Bartley Green and an active member of the school’s PTA Committee, as his three children attended that school.

From December 2014 until his retirement in January 2022, due to ill health, Bernard worked for the Archdiocese as Clergy Welfare Coordinator, assisting sick and retired priests with all their needs.

“I have always been dedicated to serving, in whatever way I can, and have always found it most spiritually uplifting and rewarding to witness the recipients of the services I have rendered,” said Bernard.

“Often, people show no reaction or take you for granted, or even spurn you, but some will show their appreciation with a ‘thank you’ or by a simple smile or twinkle in their eyes. But, always, I have just wanted to be of service. My Catholic upbringing and family life have always had a lasting effect on me, both as a child and as a parent. Despite the challenges in life, the ups and downs, the joys and the traumas, I rely on God guiding me and this is evident through the wonderful support given to me by my wife of nearly 42 years: Eileen, who is my inspiration!

“I have never regretted the service I have strived to provide and would encourage everyone to trust in The Lord: follow Him and He will lead the way.

“My faith is my world. I cannot imagine living without my faith. I may not be a good Catholic, but I am always anxious to serve, to make others happier with my small contribution.”