A Thornaby parishioner has been given a prestigious papal award for her dedicated community work.

Mary Frankland was presented with the Benemerenti Medal, which is awarded for long and exceptional work in the Catholic church.

The retired teacher was given a standing ovation when she was awarded the medal at Christ the King Church.

Mary’s community work includes supporting refugees, asylum seekers and people with special needs and helping the Madeleine Mary Walker Foundation.

Speaking about the medal, Mary said: “Considering Pope Francis’ stance on helping the poor and looking for tolerance, I am absolutely delighted with this award.

“I am amazed that people thought I was worthy enough to receive it. It’s a great honour. My life has been enhanced immensely by the people I have come across.”

Mary has volunteered at the Mixed Ability Club (MAC), based at St Patrick’s School in Thornaby, for 36 years.

Speaking about the club, Mary said: “I have seen people grow from children into adults and we have become a family through the immense amount of trust that has grown.

“When people tell me they love me and that I am important in their lives, that’s incredible. People were once strangers and now they are telling me they love me.

“Just because somebody has a disability does not mean they do not feel love. They care about people.”

Mary’s dedicated work also includes a drop-in centre for refugees and asylum seekers and acting as chairperson for JFC United, an amateur football team made up of 18 different nationalities.

She said: “You have to remember we are talking about human beings and hopefully they feel there’s someone they can rely on.

“We have 168 hours in a week and if you manage to sleep for eight hours a day you are still left with 112 hours. Any activity at all is a massive help to fill your day.”

Mary also heaped praise on other members of the community who have helped her.

She said: “I couldn’t do what I do without the help of a lot of other people – there are lots of them behind the scenes.

“Hopefully the medal will generate an interest in what has been done. I want it to bring forward the groups I am involved in and what they need.”

Out picture shows Mary with JFC United captain Yacouba Traore.

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