November 12, 2021

Three women receive Sisters of St. Benedict’s Angels of Grace awards

By Natalie Hoefer

Throughout the Bible, three archangels are listed by name: Gabriel, messenger of good news to Mary and Zechariah; Michael, defender of heaven who cast the devil into hell; and Raphael, the traveling companion of Tobias.

The Sisters of St. Benedict of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove have annually identified three women who have heroically served in the roles of messenger, defender and companion, and recognized their service with an “Angels of Grace” award.

Due to efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the 2020 winners were unable to receive their awards. As restrictions eased this summer, sisters from the Beech Grove monastery were able to personally deliver last year’s winners their awards.

Receiving the honor were recipients Overdose Lifeline founder and executive director Justin Phillips for the “defender” Archangel Michael Award; SON Foundation founder and executive director Denise Jacobson for the “messenger” Archangel Gabriel Award; and Celebrate Marriage Ministry co-founder Marcy Renken for the “companion” Archangel Raphael Award.

Here are the stories of the 2020 messenger, defender and companion.

Archangel Michael Award winner Justin Phillips

Justin Phillips’ career revolved around non-profits and injury prevention for children. So when her son Aaron died in 2013 from heroin overdose—a preventable disease—she channeled her pain, passion and professional background into raising awareness of substance addiction as a preventable chronic disease.

She did so by founding Overdose Lifeline, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals, families and communities affected by the disease of addiction/substance use disorder through advocacy, education and support.

“When Aaron died and I learned a bunch of stuff I didn’t know about opioids and the real potential for overdose death from opioids and the lack of knowledge and understanding that we all had, it seemed like a logical place to transfer my skill set, because I couldn’t do anything for Aaron, but I could for other people,” said Phillips.

“That’s what keeps driving me still is the loss of Aaron combined with all the others now that I know. The families of all the others I’m connected to, in their memory and honor, and to prevent this from happening to someone else’s loved one.”

Overdose Lifeline offers courses, trainings, webinars and trainer programs to increase knowledge and competency and to fight the opioid public health crisis. It also offers youth programs, information about naloxone, family support and Camp Mariposa-Aaron’s Place for children of families affected by substance use disorder.

The organization also led efforts to pass Aaron’s Law, which allows laypersons access to the drug Narcan—a nasal spray used to treat suspected opioid overdose—without a prescription, thus eliminating barriers to receiving the drug and using it to save lives.

“I was really honored,” Phillips said of receiving the award. “I don’t feel worthy, honestly. I have a strong work ethic and I’m just trying to make a difference for others.”

She thinks getting the St. Michael Award specifically is “appropriate because it’s my hope and prayer that I am defending the goodness and dignity of others, but more specifically those who are affected by this disease that is often judged and stigmatized by society.”

For more on Overdose Lifeline, go to

Archangel Gabriel Award winner Denise Jacobson

Some friends are there for a friend in need. And then some friends create a non-profit organization to help others like their friend.

Such is the case with Denise Jacobson. When her friend and fellow fourth-grade teacher Tiffany Thompson took a year’s leave to heal from cancer treatments, Jacobson took a year’s leave to care for her.

During that year, God revealed to Jacobson his true calling for her: to share the love of Christ by opening a home of Christian support in downtown Indianapolis to give cancer patients and their families a place to stay when they are coming from out of town for cancer treatments.

The home opened in 2013. She named it the SON Foundation. SON stands for Serving Others’ Needs, and the foundation seeks to do so with faith at the center of all they do.

“We offer [guests] a Bible that they may take with them if they choose,” said Jacobson. “We have a minister on call if a guest would like to speak with someone. Prior to COVID, we had a weekly Bible study. We just try to show the love of Christ through what we do and how we do it.”

Volunteers connect with the home’s temporary residents, offer to pray with and for them, and serve as a liaison for any needs they might have.

“They’re just another friend on the other end of the line while [families are] here in Indy,” Jacobson explained. “They just try to love on our guests and shine the light of Christ through what they do.

“We just try to give a message of hope and that there’s a community out there surrounding our guests and families, that they’re not alone, that there are others going through the same thing, but that God also knows exactly what they’re going through and it’s for a purpose. There’s a purpose for their trial and there’s a community that will help support them through it.”

Receiving the award from the Sisters of St. Benedict was particularly meaningful to Jacobson.

“My grandmother’s house was across from the Benedict Inn,” she noted. “The sisters brought back those times with my family spent right there walking through their gardens. I never imagined I’d be standing on their grounds receiving an award!”

For more on the SON Foundation, go to

Archangel Raphael Award winner Marcy Renken

The Worldwide Marriage Encounter program is known for strengthening marriages. In the case of Marcy and Tom Renken of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, their marriage was so transformed that they wanted to strengthen other married couples’ relationships as well.

The couple founded the Celebrate Marriage Ministry in their parish in 2012.

“We grew to see how important community is in marriage,” said Renken. “It’s not just having friends, but for couples to have a community of couples to encourage each other and to know that we all have struggles, good days, bad days, and that no matter where you are in your marriage, God can use you to make your marriage better.”

The ministry, which is open to all married couples, hosts four events a year, each focusing on a specific aspect of marriage.

“One is romance, so we have a marriage reception for married couples,” Renken explained. “Second is our Celebrate Fun event, which is friendly competition between couples, like scavenger hunts and games. Third is an all-day conference so spouses can spend the whole day together. And fourth is Celebrate Covenant, a date night with entertainment for couples to spend with other couples.”

She said they hope to inspire similar ministries in other parishes.

Renken was thrilled to receive the honor from the Sisters of St. Benedict.

“It’s really humbling, a huge shock, to get an award I didn’t know I was in the running for,” she said.

“For the Benedictines to hear about our ministry and think it’s worth giving this award for, I can’t put words to it. With COVID, it’s been difficult—with the ministry, marriage, life, work, day to day changes. To be acknowledged for doing the work of God during this time I feel was a play by the Holy Spirit to say, ‘You’re on the right track.’ ”

For more information on the Celebrate Marriage Ministry, go to

(The Angels of Grace award winners usually receive their awards at a fashion show and luncheon fundraiser benefiting women’s programs at the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center in Beech Grove. The 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. To make a donation to support the cause, donate online at, or write a check made out to the Benedict Inn with “Angels of Grace” in the memo line, and mail it to Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center, 1402 Southern Avenue, Beech Grove, IN 46107. For more information, call 317-788-7581. All photos above were submitted.)

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