• <p>Mary Camobreco, founder and longtime director of Birthright in Ithaca, accepts a Vita Award from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano during the annual Respect Life Mass Oct. 6 at Rochester&rsquo;s Sacred Heart Cathedral. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)  </p>

    Mary Camobreco, founder and longtime director of Birthright in Ithaca, accepts a Vita Award from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano during the annual Respect Life Mass Oct. 6 at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

  • <p>Dennis Osika accepts the Vita Award from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano during the annual Respect Life Mass Oct. 6 at Rochester&rsquo;s Sacred Heart Cathedral. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)  </p>

    Dennis Osika accepts the Vita Award from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano during the annual Respect Life Mass Oct. 6 at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

  • <p>Judith Kiehl accepts the Vita Award from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano during the annual Respect Life Mass Oct. 6 at Rochester&rsquo;s Sacred Heart Cathedral. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)  </p>

    Judith Kiehl accepts the Vita Award from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano during the annual Respect Life Mass Oct. 6 at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Diocese of Rochester Catholics honored for work to affirm life

Mike Latona/Catholic Courier    |    10.07.2019
Category: Monroe County


ROCHESTER — Earning a prestigious diocesan award certainly hasn’t gone to Dennis Osika’s head.

“I felt totally surprised and totally humbled, and greatly honored,” Osika remarked to the Catholic Courier, recalling that upon learning he was a Vita Award recipient, “I asked myself, ‘Why me? I know a lot of great Catholics.’”

Two of those Catholics, Mary Camobreco and Judith Kiehl, joined Osika Oct. 6 at Sacred Heart Cathedral. The trio was honored during the annual Respect Life Mass — held on Respect Life Sunday — with Bishop Salvatore R. Matano serving as celebrant. The bishop presented a Vita Award to each recipient, in front of a nearly full cathedral, just before the end of Mass.

Vita Awards are given to Catholics from the 12-county Diocese of Rochester whose actions reflect and promote the consistent life ethic — the principle that calls for all human life to be respected and affirmed, from conception until natural death. Osika, for instance, has been involved for many years in Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga’s justice-and-peace ministry.

“He has especially been dedicated to the promotion of peace and nonviolence, nuclear disarmament, and protection of the environment, remembering how all of these have direct consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable among us,” stated Laurie Konwinski, Catholic Charities’ deputy director in that region, who nominated Osika for the Vita Award.

Osika also was recognized for his award at a Catholic Charities dinner Oct. 4 at All Saints Church in Lansing, his home parish. He is a member of All Saints’ buildings-and-grounds committee, having served as grounds-department director at Cornell University from 1984 until his 2009 retirement; and is active as well with Habitat for Humanity and Rotary International. Currently, Osika said, his advocacy is geared toward decrying what he calls “the madness of nuclear proliferation” and reducing climate change.

A second Vita Award recipient from Tompkins County is Camobreco, who in 1981 became the founding director of Birthright in Ithaca — the first crisis pregnancy center ever for that city. She continued in that role for some 34 years before stepping down in 2015, serving on a volunteer basis the entire time. She still helps out at the Birthright facility, located at 605 W. State St., two days per week.

Camobreco said that when she sought to establish a local Birthright, “I told God if I could be an instrument in saving one life, it would be worth it.” As it has turned out, she said, thousands of young women have been helped — and in many instances, the lives of would-be aborted babies have been spared.

“I just thank God,” said Camobreco, an Ithaca resident, who attends both Immaculate Conception Church in Ithaca as well as St. James the Apostle in Trumansburg. The latter faith community is a part of Parish of Mary Mother of Mercy that also includes St. Francis Solanus in Interlaken and Holy Cross in Ovid.

Camobreco said she has gladly devoted herself over the years to helping others, noting that she’s done so out of gratefulness for blessings in her own life.

“I have been given so much,” she remarked.

Kiehl, as well, said Oct. 6 that she feels grateful — both for the Vita Award and the folks she has known during her longtime involvement in ministry.

“I’m deeply touched (by the award),” the Irondequoit resident said. “It’s been a blessing today to look back over the years and think of all the wonderful people I’ve known.”

A teacher at the former St. Agnes High School in Rochester, Kiehl went on to serve as pastoral associate at Geneva’s St. Stephen Church from 1987-93 and Webster’s Holy Trinity Church from 1993-2005.

She currently is a member of the Diocesan Public Policy Committee and is a longtime member of Pax Christi Rochester. Kiehl also is active at her parish, the Cathedral Community, where she belongs to the pastoral council and Green Team that focuses on environmental concerns. In addition, she volunteers at Joseph’s Place, a food pantry serving the Cathedral Community neighborhood.

Kiehl said she’s more than happy to serve in so many capacities for the Rochester Diocese.

“I love this diocese. It’s filled with saintly people,” she said.

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