ROCHESTER — Father Laurence Tracy implored the 175 people gathered before him to be a church "of the poor" as he accepted his Gaudete Medal from St. Bonaventure University.
"I do live with the poor," he said during the April 24 medal award ceremony and dinner at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. "It doesn’t take a lot of courage. … It’s a wonderful place. My neighbors and friends in the barrio are wonderful people. They are humble and care for one another."
Father Tracy was honored for his commitment to social justice — including racial equality and workers’ rights — and his four decades of championing the rights of the Hispanic population of Rochester, said Gene O’Connor, chairman of the event.
"He embodies the spirit of St. Francis … going where people have not gone before," O’Connor added. "And his work was not just a one-time thing or for a year or two. He has dedicated his life."
And the Gaudete award is all about rejoicing and celebrating the kind of work done by people such as Father Tracy, he noted.
"He is a shining light," O’Connor remarked.
Hilda Rosario Escher, executive director and chief executive officer of Ibero-American Action League, agreed.
"No one in our community serves it more than him," she said.
Father Tracy was honored alongside former Monroe County Court Judge Patricia Marks, who retired in 2011 and subsequently served as interim president and chief executive officer of the Veterans Outreach Center, and Ronald Salluzzo, a St. Bonaventure alumnus, who is a partner in the Higher Education and Academic Medical Centers markets of Attain LLC.
Marks also is a parishioner of St. Mary Church of Rochester.
Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark, who received the Gaudete Award in 2008, said that all three recipients are well-deserving of the recognition.
"It is a great trio to represent the best of Franciscan service," Bishop Clark said.
In presenting the award, Laura Saxby Lynch said that Father Tracy demonstrates "a strong belief in the goodness of life and the God-given worth of every individual."
Father Tracy said that he hopes he can live up to the expectations of Pope Francis to be for the poor — which he acknowledged the church does do well in general — and of the poor. He said that these are Pope Francis’ goals laid out in his apostolic exhortation, Evangeli Gaudium.
"The poor have a deep sense of spirituality and faith," Father Tracy said. "So go out there … to where the poor are."
And he added: "The water is great. Come on in and join me."