2022 Leon A. McNeill recipient advocates for children, mentally ill

May 05, 2022
Catherine Mardon

After being recognized by Pope Francis for her efforts on behalf of children and those dealing with challenges — which range from opening her family home as a safe haven to writing a children’s book series telling the adventures of a boy with disabilities and his dog — Catherine Mardon was recently recognized by her alma mater.

Catherine Mardon, courtesy photo
Catherine Mardon. Courtesy photo

In honor of her commitment to making a difference in her community and beyond — and because she exemplifies Newman University’s mission of transforming society — Mardon was awarded the Leon A. McNeill Distinguished Alumni Award at the 2022 Newman Alumni Awards celebration held on Tuesday, April 19.

This award is named for the former president of Sacred Heart Junior College and honors an individual who has achieved outstanding success in personal or professional life through civic, intellectual or cultural pursuits.

The first chapter at Newman

Mardon earned a pastoral ministry degree in 2007 through Newman’s Oklahoma City pastoral ministry and theology outreach program. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, a master’s degree in theological studies and a Juris Doctorate.

Mardon, who’s originally from Oklahoma, now resides in Canada with her husband, Austin, who lives with schizophrenia.

“I knew when I married him that I was going to be taking on his crusade of advocating for the mentally ill,” she said. “He didn’t know he was going to be taking on my advocacy for kids.”

Austin and Catherine Mardon, courtesy photo
Austin and Catherine Mardon, courtesy photo

This advocacy shines through Mardon’s work with the homeless and kids who are from broken and impoverished homes.

Her care for children began when she was given custody of her nephew who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. The Mardons then began helping other children in need. They soon adopted Zach, a 16-year-old whose mother had recently died.

The couple has since found themselves taking in numerous children for various amounts of time, providing care and shelter — and a loving, safe environment.

A blend of passion and advocacy

Mardon also advocates through writing. She is the author of 36 books, including 17 children’s books. Her children’s book series follows the adventures of a basset hound named Gandy and his owner, Barney, who is disabled. The books help children understand physical and mental illness while learning various life lessons.

“I just started writing these books, and each one has a topic of something complicated, whether it’s disability or war or homelessness or addictions,” Mardon says. “And it explains it in a way that 6- to 10-year-old kids can understand.”

Video: Catherine Mardon – 2022 Leon A McNeill Award

One of the series’ most popular books, “Gandy and The Man in White,” follows Gandy and Barney’s adventure to Rome, where they meet the pope.

In 2017, Mardon was awarded the rank of Dame Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester by Pope Francis in recognition for her advocacy for the mentally ill and disabled. Two years later, she traveled to Rome, where she, herself, met the Pope — a big, surreal honor.

Catherine Mardon and husband Austin meet Pope Francis in Rome, courtesy photo.
Catherine Mardon and husband, Austin, meet Pope Francis in Rome, courtesy photo.

“He had a really good handshake,” Mardon said. “I tried to explain to Austin, you know, being an Okie, having a good handshake is important. He was smaller than I expected. I guess I expected someone the size of John Wayne or something.”

Just as she’s been doing for years, Mardon plans to continue teaching others how to find their passion and live it out with deep faith.

She said, “Finding something to be passionate about, finding a reason to get up in the morning, finding something that puts a smile on your face and takes your breath away a little bit is so important. Our lives are the greatest gift that God has given us.”

Finding something to be passionate about, finding a reason to get up in the morning, finding something that puts a smile on your face and takes your breath away is so important.”

Catherine Mardon

Learn more about the annual Newman Alumni Awards

Newman University created the annual Alumni Awards to honor alumni who are striving to make a difference in their communities and beyond and living out the university’s mission of transforming society.