Dr. James O’Connell to Deliver Commencement Address

By Allyson Noenickx, News Editor

Earlier this month the College announced that Dr. James O’Connell, president and founding physician of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, will deliver this year’s Commencement Address. In addition to Dr. O’Connell, the College will award honorary degrees to Clementina Chéry––who founded a peace institute after the fatal shooting of her son––and Rev. Robert Kennedy, S.J., Roshi––professor and one of three Jesuit Zen roshis worldwide.

Dr. O’Connell, Chaplain Chéry, and Fr. Kennedy have dedicated their lives and used their gifts to improve their communities in distinct ways,” said Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., president.  “Their extraordinary work is an inspiration to many, and we are honored that they have accepted our invitation to be a part of our Commencement ceremonies and to join our Holy Cross community as honorary degree recipients.”

Dr. O’Connell currently serves at the helm of BHCHP, an institution which he founded in 1985.  BHCHP provides homeless men, women, and children in the greater Boston area with access to the highest quality healthcare. With hospital-based clinics at Boston Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and more than sixty shelters and outreach sites, the program currently serves over 12,000 homeless people yearly. Under Dr. O’Connell’s leadership, BHCHP has grown to become the country’s largest and most comprehensive program of its kind. Dr. O’Connell continues to serve on the team of doctors that meets patients on the streets, offering food and warm socks, medical treatment, and the support of trusted friends.

Dr. O’Connell also served as the National Program Director of the Homeless Families Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1989 to 1996. In 2015 Dr. O’Connell published his first book,  “Stories from the Shadows: Reflections of a Street Doctor.” He has been featured on ABC’s Nightline and in the documentary “Give Me a Shot of Anything.” Additionally, he serves as the editor of “The Health Care of Homeless Persons: A Manual of Communicable Diseases and Common Problems in Shelters and on the Streets” and has published articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, Circulation, and the American Journal of Public Health, and Journal of Clinical Ethics. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award and The Trustees’ Medal at the bicentennial celebration of MGH. Dr. O’Connell graduated summa cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1970, received his master’s degree in theology from Cambridge University in 1972, and graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1982.

Clementina Chéry, president and CEO of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Boston, will also receive an honorary degree from the College. Following the 1994 fatal shooting of her son, Louis D. Brown, Chaplain Chéry founded the Institute to teach young people the value of peace, to leverage the assets in her community, and to transform society’s response to homicide. With the help of the Boston Public Health Commission she developed Survivors Outreach Services (SOS), the Institute’s core program which offers emotional and practical support for families in the days immediately following a homicide. Chéry also founded both the Serving Survivors of Homicide Victims Providers Network and the Massachusetts Survivors of Homicide Victims Network. Over the years she has trained thousands of public health professionals, law enforcement officials, and religious leaders across the country in best practices for supporting families and interrupting cycles of retaliatory violence.

Chaplain Chéry was ordained as a senior chaplain with the International Fellowship of Chaplains, Inc. in 2012. She has published tools for families of victims including “Always in My Heart: A workbook for Grieving Children” and the “Survivors Burial and Resource Guide.” In 2005 Chaplain coauthored an article titled “Homicide Survivors: Research and Practice Implications,” which was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Additionally Chéry has been the recipient of several honors and awards. Last year she was selected as a Social Innovator by the Social Innovation Forum, was named one of Boston’s 100 most influential leaders of color by Collette Phillips Communications, Inc., and received the Impact Award by Phillips Brooks House Association at Harvard University.

Rev. Robert Kennedy, S.J., Roshi will also receive an honorary degree from the College at this year’s Commencement ceremonies. Fr. Kennedy is one of only three known Jesuit priests in the world who has been installed as a Zen roshi––master teacher. He has published two books on the intersection of Christianity and Zen Buddhism: “Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit:  The Place of Zen in Christian Life” and “Zen Gifts to Christians.” Fr. Kennedy is professor emeritus of theology at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J., where he lives with the Jesuit Community.

Fr. Kennedy joined the Jesuits in 1951. He studied and taught in Japan for eight years and was ordained a priest in Tokyo in 1965. He studied with three Zen masters and was installed as a sensei in 1991 and as a Roshi in 1997. Fr. Kennedy has lived his mission of conversation and collaboration in Mexico, Ecuador, England, Wales, Ireland, and several centers in the United States.

The College’s Commencement ceremonies will be held on Friday, May 26, at 10:30 a.m. at the DCU Center in Worcester.

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