Distinguished Alumni

Distinguished Alumni

Meet the Distinguished Alumni Award recipients.

The Dei Verbum Award and the Lumen Gentium Award, which are presented annually, acknowledge two graduates of the Neuhoff Institute for Ministry & Evangelization whose established records of outstanding accomplishment reflect the fruit of "theological education for transformative service." These awards honor graduates who have given exemplary service to the local church in general, the work of faith formation in particular, and the larger community, especially the poor and needy. The Dei Verbum Award annually honors a graduate of the Catholic Biblical School, while the Lumen Gentium Award is presented each year to an alumnus of the Neuhoff Institute for Ministry & Evangelization graduate program.

If you would like to nominate someone for one of our distinguished alumni awards, please contact us at ministryevents@udallas.edu and we will put you in contact with the Nomination Committee.

Deacon Ruben Natera | 2015-2016 Lumen Gentium Award

Deacon Ruben Natera has been an exemplary pastoral minister for many decades, serving in a wide range of capacities in multiple parishes throughout the Diocese of Tyler. He was chancellor for both Bishop Corrada and Bishop Strickland between 2008 and 2012 and has been actively involved in leadership with deacon formation, Hispanic ministry and other ministries in the diocese. Deacon Natera is well-known and respected throughout the state of Texas and beyond for his effective, generous and skilled ministry. He is beloved by people who know him for his gentleness of spirit, his keenness of mind and his openhearted sense of humor.

Beth Belcher | 2015-2016 Dei Verbum Award

Beth is an award-winning teacher with a Master of Theological Studies degree from the University of Dallas, a graduate of the Catholic Biblical School, and a national certification in Youth Ministry. She is the author of 60 resources, some also in Spanish, leading families closer to God. Beth teaches parent sacramental classes at her parish, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Dallas, is a Middle School Religion teacher at St Maria Goretti Catholic School in Arlington and a guest lecturer for RCIA classes. Beth has been Hospitality Co-chair for the UDMC for the past five years and serves on the Bishop’s Pastoral Council for the Diocese of Dallas. She is happily married and has six grown children.

Sonia R. Dimas | 2020-2021 Dei Verbum Award

Sonia R. Dimas graduated with the first class from the Escuela Bíblica Católica at the University of Dallas in May of 2010.Originally from Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, Sonia immigrated to the United States in 1985, and became involved in the Spanish young adult group and served as Lector and as a Eucharistic Minister at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish. In 1993 and became members of St. Ann’s Church in Coppell in 1992,  where Sonia helped with the “Catequesis Familiar” program. A final move brought Sonia and family to the Farmer’s Branch area where they joined Mary Immaculate Church where in 2001, Sonia began work as a receptionist. From 2009-2012 she worked as assistant in the Youth Ministry, Adults RCIA and in Hispanic Ministry, where she now serves as the Director of Hispanic Ministry. Sonia is married to Mr. Julio Dimas and together have 3 children, Julio, Diego and Tracie.

The Dei Verbum Award was presented to Sonia R. Dimas in front of family, friends and fellow parishioners during the 9:00 am Mass at Mary Immaculate Parish in Farmers Branch on Sunday, May 2, 2021.


Kevin Harrington | 2014-2015 Lumen Gentium Award

Kevin Harrington graduated with a master of theological studies degree in 1995, but his record of service goes back to his youth. His formative experiences as an active campus ministry leader in college and service as a member of the Happening Youth Retreat team launched a lifetime of ongoing ministry in and for the church. As an active parishioner at St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Pilot Point, Kevin has served the mission of the church in a host of ways. He has been a catechist of adults and youth, served as a pastoral council member, and contributed professional expertise in administrative areas. He is also a decades-long supporter of retreat ministry through the Catholic Renewal Center of North Texas and Montserrat Jesuit Retreat Center, where he has done everything from maintenance to IT consultation, directed private and group retreats, and served on the boards of directors. Of special import has been Mr. Harringtons work in ministry with the incarcerated. He has been instrumental in the conduct of many Kairos Retreats in the Texas penal system. He is a passionate and effective advocate for prison ministry, and his gentle but persistent persuasion has drawn dozens of once reluctant volunteers into committed service. 

Cecilia Rangel | 2014-2015 Dei Verbum Award

Cecilia Rangel graduated with the first class from the Escuela Biblica Catolica at the University of Dallas in May of 2010. She became a Eucharistic Minister in 2007, and was eventually asked to create a formation program for Eucharistic Ministers and altar servers in her parish, which she is still in charge of today. In 2011, alongside other University of Dallas Escuela Biblica Catolica alumnus, she founded weekly Bible classes at St. Ann, with an average attendance of 60 people. This November, the program celebrated its third year. Cecilia has also participated as a volunteer in the fundraising efforts of Radio Guadalupe, and most recently as a radio speaker. She is working at St. Ann as Administrative Assistant to the Adult Religious Education Department, while still volunteering by teaching Bible classes, serving as a Eucharistic Minister, and training future Eucharistic Ministers. Cecilia and her husband, Raul, have been married for eight years.

Lari Newman-Williams | 2013-2014 Lumen Gentium Award

Lari Newman-Williams graduated with the master of pastoral ministry degree in 2007. After serving many years as a catechetical volunteer in the parish, Lari now works as a parish administrator at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Southeast Dallas. Lari returned to the classroom as the first student in the Neuhoff Institute's church management program, a joint venture with the University of Dallas Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business. She completed this graduate certificate in 2012. She serves in her parish as a cantor, liturgist, pastoral council member, and volunteer with and advocate for the youth ministry program. She is integrally involved in the black Catholic community, and has chaired the diocesan black Catholic "Come Home for Christmas" initiative. In 2012, she was awarded the Servant of Christ Award in recognition of outstanding leadership and service to the African American Catholic community of Dallas. In 2013, Lari demonstrated her continued support for her alma mater when she began working on a research project on contemporary parish life with undergraduate pastoral ministry majors at the Neuhoff Institute. Lari and her husband Ronnie have been married for 31 years. They have one daughter, Annelle.

Mary Elizabeth Morgan | 2013-2014 Dei Verbum Award

Mary Elizabeth Morgan graduated from the Neuhoff Institute Catholic Biblical School in 2013 as part of the first class from the Diocese of Shreveport, LA. Mary is a member of Christ the King Parish in Bossier City, LA, and she currently works as a nurse at the Shriners Hospital in that area. In 1998, she completed the Loyola Institute of Ministry Extension (LIMEX) Program at Chicago Loyola New Orleans. Mary is well-known in the diocese as a self-less and caring minister who is generous with her time and energy for the sake of others. Among other commitments, she is active in assisting with RCIA, prison ministry, home visitations, taking food to the poor, working in a free clinic, learning Spanish to better serve the Hispanic community, and doing Pre-Cana at her home parish. Mary and her husband, Bob, have four grown children and six grandchildren.

Deacon James (Jim) Novak | 2020-2021 Lumen Gentium Award

Deacon Jim Novak graduated from the Neuhoff Institute with a master's in theological studies in 2006. Deacon Jim has served as a deacon in the Diocese of Fort Worth for 25 years, and in 2006 – in his “spare time” -- completed the MTS at the University of Dallas, commuting from Seymour to Irving monthly for classes. This hands-on experience and extensive formation prepared him well for his culminating work as Parochial Administrator of Sacred Heart parish in Seymour and St. Mary parish in Megargel, in Baylor and Archer counties respectively. Classmates and professors and colleagues have long admired Jim’s quick intelligence, deep faith, and heart for service. He’s committed to ongoing formation of others for service. Whether it’s young priests who serve as sacramental ministers in his rural parishes, candidates for diaconate in his home diocese, or rank and file parishioners in search of deeper faith, Jim eagerly supports others to become more faithful and effective disciples. He and wife Rilda have three children and seven grandkids, from a 22 year old about to graduate from grandpa’s alma mater, Texas A&M, to a 6 year old preparing for first communion.

The Lumen Gentium Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to Deacon Jim Novak  in front of family, friends and fellow parishioners during the 10:00 am Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Seymour, Texas on Sunday May 23, 2021.

Denise Giegerich Phillips | 2012-2013 Lumen Gentium Award

Mrs. Phillips earned a master of religious education degree in 1990 as a member of the inaugural class of the Institute of Religious and Pastoral Studies (now the Neuhoff Institute for Ministry & Evangelization). A long time Dallas resident, she graduated from Bishop Dunne High School before attending the University of Texas at Dallas, where she earned a bachelor's degree in literary studies. She has served as catechist within the Catholic Diocese of Dallas since 1981 and as director of campus ministry at the University of Dallas since 1997. She is also currently the university's acting dean of student life. Phillips earned a professional certification from the Catholic Campus Ministry Association (CCMA) in 2004, and is part of that organization's Speaker Committee. Last June, she was awarded CCMA's John Henry Cardinal Newman Legacy Society Award. During her tenure as director of campus ministry, she collaborated with the Neuhoff Institute to establish the Campus Ministry Graduate Assistant Mentoring Program.

Deacon Eduardo and Olga Garcia | 2012-2013 Dei Verbum Award

Deacon and Mrs. Garcia graduated from the Neuhoff Institute Catholic Biblical School in 2010 as part of the first Spanish-language class. Members of Fort Worth's All Saints Catholic Church until 1994, the couple is now active at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Arlington, Texas, where Eduardo serves as a permanent deacon. Since 1995, the Garcias have organized two retreats per year for couples who want to con-validate their marriage in the church. Deacon Garcia also provides communion services at correctional institutions, has assisted AIDS victims at John Peter Smith Hospital and serves as a pastoral counselor within the parish, celebrating baptisms, weddings, quinceaeras and funerals. Mrs. Garcia served on the Permanent Deacon Formation Board from 2000-2008. Together, the couple serves their parish as Eucharistic ministers, catechists, presenters and small group leaders.

Sr. Yolanda Cruz, SSMN | 2011-2012 Lumen Gentium Award

Sr. Cruz graduated from the Neuhoff Institute with a master's in pastoral ministry in 2005. She currently serves as vice-chancellor of the Diocese of Fort Worth, and prior to that, she served as Director of Children's Catechesis for the diocese. She has worked in catechetical ministry in several parishes in the Fort Worth, Mexico, and her native New Jersey. A Sister of Saint Mary of Namur, she serves on the provincial council and has worked in a variety of leadership positions within the order. She has done extensive work to promote vocations to religious life, not only for her own community, but more broadly in the local church, assisting with "Come and See" weekends and other discernment programs across diocesan borders.

William E. O'Connor | 2011-2012 Dei Verbum Award

Mr. O'Connor graduated from the Neuhoff Institute Catholic Biblical School in 2007. An active member of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Azle, TX, Bill currently serves as a lector, Eucharistic minister, RCIA catechist and sponsor, director of the altar servers, and member of the Pastoral council and Liturgy committee. Four years ago, Bill began a weekly bible study at the parish, drawing nearly 25 attendees each week from his parish of only 300 families. A rancher by trade, Bill is also very active in the Azle community. He serves on the board of directors for Green Light in Azle, which provides housing and other services to battered women, and he sponsors the Azle Future Farmers of America, FFA, and Beef Show Team, providing cattle, facilities, training, and transportation to Azle youth who would not otherwise have the opportunity to show cattle.

Dcn. Arnold Picon | 2010-2011 Lumen Gentium Award

Arnold Picon was ordained a deacon for the Diocese of Dallas in 1992. He serves at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Plano and throughout the Diocese wherever a Spanish speaking deacon may be needed. He has been Director of Diaconal Ministry and Formation in the Diocese of Dallas since 1997. He coordinates the ministry of deacons in the Diocese and the formation of candidates for diaconal ministry. He also chairs the Deacons' Advisory Council and the Deacons' Personnel Board, serves on the Hispanic Leadership team, and the Landregan Lecture Series Board.

Tena Allain | 2010-2011 Dei Verbum Award

Ms. Tena Allain is a longtime member of St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell, Texas. Her generosity and skill have been applied in multiple areas of ministry to assist the parish in its mission of proclaiming and living the gospel. A partial list of her accomplishments includes service as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, finance council member, leader of adult mission trips to Mexico, Sunday School catechist, communications director for youth ministry, LifeTeen Parents for Life leader, coordinator of the parish Sunday School, and chair of the parish Pastoral Council.

Michele Elchlepp | 2009-2010 Lumen Gentium Award

Elchlepp chairs the Theology Department at Jesuit College Preparatory School, where she has taught since 1994. She has been recognized for excellence in teaching and served in leadership positions of the Jesuit Secondary Education Association, a national coalition of educators serving schools staffed by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Described by colleagues as "indefatigable," Ms. Elchlepp's effort, while always centered on her students, extends to faculty development, curriculum design, and an innovative program of volunteer service for Jesuit alumni. A graduate of Ursuline Academy, she serves the larger community through participation in a variety of charitable and civic organizations. Ms. Elchlepp called her studies at the Neuhoff Institute "a touchstone" in her work with students. "That knowledge has given me a base which I use while interacting with my students as part of the formation of their knowledge and the development of their personal relationship with God."

Reyna Castelán | 2009-2010 Dei Verbum Award

Casteln, a volunteer Bible study leader at the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Worth for over ten years, had been helping out at the federal prison on Fort Worth's south side for several years when she began studies in the Catholic Biblical School. That experience opened up the riches of the bible in a new way. "The classes gave me more than just information about the Bible, "Ms. Casteln said. "They helped me know at a new level that God loves us, no matter what. The teachers' love for the Scriptures inspired me to share that deep truth with my brothers in prison." After graduation, she arranged with professors at the Neuhoff Institute to lead a small group of Spanish speaking inmates through the comprehensive curriculum. A long time volunteer for Tarrant County Aids Outreach Center and an ardent supporter of the work of Catholic Charities, Ms. Casteln is also an associate of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. She also served as an employee of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth for over 20 years.

Barbara Landregan  | 2008-2009  Lumen Gentium Award

Stephanie Reiter  | 2008-2009  Dei Verbum Award

Jeff Hedglen | 2007-2008 Lumen Gentium Award

Delora Leder | 2007-2008 Dei Verbum Award

Dr. Judy Henneberger | 2006-2007 Lumen Gentium Award

Ceil Ladda | 2006-2007 Dei Verbum Award 

Ruth Martin | 2005-2006 Lumen Gentium Award

Linda Khirallah Porter  | 2004-2005  Lumen Gentium Award