The Papal Honour of the Order of St. Sylvester was conferred by the Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr. Michael Neary on Mrs. Judy Coyne of Belearra, the founder, 68-years ago, of the Knock Shrine Society, at a special ceremony in Knock Basilica, on the 7th September, 1997.
This is the first time that the honour has been bestowed on a woman in Ireland.
The ceremony took place during the celebrations to mark the death of Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh who was parish priest of Knock at the time of the apparition in 1879. Mrs. Coyne had devoted her lifetime to Knock Shrine.
In1935 with her husband, the late Justice Liam Coyne, she began her work for Knock. Together they set out to collect the facts then known about the apparition which occurred over fifty years before. They then published the first of many books on Knock.
Knock Shrine Society Founded :
When it became apparent that more help was needed to further the cause they founded the Knock Shrine Society. With the full approval and encouragement of the then Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. Gilmartin, they set out to make Knock better known and to help to promote it in every way. Gradually and mostly through their efforts information about the Shrine spread, by means of broadcasts, lectures, tours and numerous publications. Pilgrimages grew from those on the traditional Marian feast days, August 15 and December 8, to almost every Sunday through the summer months. By the 1950's the numbers coming on pilgrimage had become immense.
Following the untimely death of her husband, Mrs. Coyne laboured on alone, undertaking all aspects of the work. There was no office at Knock so she dealt with the huge amount of correspondence as well as arranging pilgrimages, which included making special arrangements for the thousands of sick people coming to the Shrine, from her home at Bridgemount, Castlebar.
Mrs. Coyne continued to do so until Monsignor Horan was appointed parish priest in Knock. By that time the pattern of progress was well in place. The Monsignor's huge contribution to the building and ultimate development of the Shrine is well known.
The first Knock Shrine Annual was published in 1938. Mrs. Coyne remained its editor for fifty-seven editions. Today she is associated mostly, though not entirely, with the Handmaids and Stewards,but that is only a very small part of the story.
Through the years her vision, foresight and untiring efforts in what began as 'promoting the cause of Knock Shrine' have endured throughout her long life, and ensure her place in the history of the entire development of modem Knock.
Archbishop Neary's Tribute :
Archbishop Neary paid tribute to Mrs. Coyne, who has been in charge of the Shrine Society since 1935.
Archbishop Neary said : "In 1995 Knock Shrine Stewards and Handmaids celebrated their diamond jubilee. On that occasion I said that their presence here at the shrine is in keeping with the apparition - a silent, but sensitive and very effective and eloquent presence as they stand shoulder to shoulder with and minister to the invalids and pilgrims. This is an historic occasion. It is the first time that a lady in Ireland was conferred with the honour of Dame of St. Sylvester.
"As we honour the founder of Knock Shrine Society I would like to quote from a letter I received from her recently. She said: 'I would like to make it known that I am accepting this honour not alone on my own behalf, but on behalf of and in the name of all the Knock Shrine Society promoters and all the handmaids and stewards past and present'.
Editor of Knock Shrine Annual for 57 years:
"Mrs. Coyne", the Archbishop said, "edited the Knock Shrine Annual for 57 years. The Knock Shrine Society was founded by her in 1935 and she continues to be its guiding inspiration. Her whole life was focused on and took its direction from devotion to Our Lady of Knock. Those who work with her are very conscious of her prophetic vision, her practical concern and dedication to the sick and invalids.
"This is an appropriate day on which to confer this honour as we commemorate the death 100 years ago of Archdeacon Cavanagh, who was parish priest in Knock at the time of the apparition.
Dame of St. Sylvester
This Order was instituted by Gregory XVI in 1841. St. Sylvester was Pope during the reign of the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. The Order was specially created to reward lay men and women who are active in the Apostolate, in particular in the exercise of their professional duties.
The emblem of the Order is an eight-pointed white enamel cross bearing the image of Pope St. Sylvester in the centre and surrounded by a Papal Tiara and the keys, hanging from a black silk ribbon with three narrow red stripes. The Order has its own 6niforrn.
Archbishop Neary added : "I want to congratulate Mrs. Coyne very warmly on being conferred with this honour and on behalf of Monsignor Grealy, the priests of the Archdiocese, the Knock Shrine Stewards and Handmaids and all the pilgrims over the years, I want to thank her for her unswerving loyalty to Our Lady and to all who come here for hope and consolation."