By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Pope has bestowed the highest papal honor a layperson can obtain upon the former superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

While Mary Rochford retired in June to devote more time to her family, Archbishop Charles Chaput called her back for a meeting and surprised her, according to Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrell.

“The archbishop informed her that the holy father has named her a Dame of St. Gregory.”

The church says Rochford received the high papal honor not just because of her service to the Archdiocese as the former superintendent, but because of her life of exemplary Christian witness.

“This says to the rest of us Mary is someone we should emulate. Her example of witness, faithfulness to the church and to Jesus, is something we should all replicate,” says Farrell.

Prior to joining the Office of Catholic Education in 1999, Rochford served as a Catholic school teacher and administrator for over 25 years.