Healy Award Dinner celebrates 25th year

NORWOOD -- The Bishop James Augustine Healy Award Dinner, sponsored by the Black Catholic Ministries of the Archdiocese of Boston, celebrated its 25th year, Nov. 17 at Four Points by Sheraton in Norwood.

Honored guests included Cardinal Seán O'Malley, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Ruffin Award recipients Jim and Kathy Heffernan, and Healy Award recipient Rashaun Martin.

Past Healy Award recipient Pierre Monette Jr. served as master of ceremonies.

Monette said the theme for this year's dinner, "Be Strong: Stand Firm in Faith," is important to remember at this time, an apparent reference to the recent shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

"When we think about the times in which we live, when people are walking into synagogues and other places of worship and just tearing people down because of who they are, we must stand strong in our faith," Monette said.

The Ruffin Award honors practicing Catholics who serve the black Catholic community and foster educational and mentorship opportunities. It is named for Robert L. Ruffin, a prominent black Catholic layman who led the Boston delegation at the first Black Catholic Congress in Washington, D.C. in 1889.

This year, the Ruffin Award was presented to Jim and Kathy Heffernan, parishioners of St. Katharine Drexel in Roxbury. Kathy Heffernan has served as a pastoral associate, led service trips to New Orleans and Ecuador, and taught in public and private schools as well as religious education programs. Jim Heffernan is Senior Vice President of Finance and Treasurer of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization. Together, Kathy and Jim Heffernan work to raise awareness of domestic violence and serve their community in various ways.

"Receiving the Ruffin Award is a great honor because of the magnificent work done by previous recipients. We have not known all of them personally, but those that we do know are models for us," Kathy Heffernan said.

The Bishop James Augustine Healy Award is presented to practicing black Catholics who have shown effective leadership and service in the black Catholic community. The 2018 Healy Award was presented to Rashaun Martin, a lifelong member of St. Katharine Drexel Parish and a Fourth Degree Knight of St. Peter Claver. He has been a faculty member of Boston Latin School and principal of Cathedral Catholic High School. He is currently the District Supervisor of Social Studies and World Languages for the Haverhill Public Schools.

In his acceptance speech, Martin thanked the many people who have given him opportunities to serve and said he will continue to serve.

The award dinner was dedicated to the memory of Sister Dolores Harrall of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

Lorna DesRoses, evangelization consultant of the archdiocese's Black Catholic Ministries, spoke of Sister Dolores' legacy. She was a principal and choir director and a founding member of the National Black Sisters' Conference. She called for formalized ministry to black Catholics in the archdiocese of Boston, and DesRoses said Black Catholic Ministries began because of her advocacy.

The Boston Black Catholic Choir and Tempo International Rhythm Section provided music at the dinner, and members of youth group of St. Anne Parish in Boston performed a dance.

The guest speaker at the dinner was Archbishop Gregory, former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He spoke of women religious of color who have carried on the Healy family's legacy.

Michael Healy, an Irish immigrant who became a planter in Georgia, could not legally marry Mary Eliza, a mixed race slave, but they lived together and had ten children, of which James Augustine was the eldest. Because their mother was a slave, the children were considered slaves and prohibited from receiving an education, so Michael Healy sent them to be educated in Quaker and Jesuit schools in the north.

Archbishop Gregory said the Healy family is mainly remembered for the three sons who became priests and leaders of Catholic institutions. James Augustine became the bishop of Portland and the first African-American bishop in the United States, while his brothers became president of a Jesuit college and rector of Holy Cross Cathedral. However, Archbishop Gregory said, the Healys also had three daughters who entered religious life. One of them, Sister St. Mary Magdalene, became the superior of her community for 15 years, the first African-American to hold the position.

"The entire Healy family was exceptionally devoted to our Catholic faith," Archbishop Gregory said.

He went on, "The Healys are not, however, the only courageous witnesses to social justice within our Catholic history."

He cited the examples of women religious of color from more recent history, such as Sister Antona Ebo, who was active in the civil rights movement; Sister Francesca Thompson, a professor from Fordham University; and Sister Thea Bowman, who addressed the USCCB on the topic of cultural diversity in June 1989.

"(Sister) Thea minced no words in demanding that African-American Catholics be viewed as welcomed and valued members of the family of faith that is the Catholic Church," Archbishop Gregory said.

He added, "We need to recall and be inspired by the numerous remarkable people who have played a significant role in the growth and development of the Church in the lives of people of color."

Archbishop Gregory pointed out that the three women he named all converted to Catholicism from other religious backgrounds.

"They were fortunate to have found Catholics who inspired and welcomed them into the family of Catholicism. That is our role today, to welcome and to invite others to join us at the Lord's table of fellowship," he said.

The archbishop also spoke of the need for evangelization even in the midst of serious challenges the Church now faces.

"The Healy family is a shining example of people who courageously faced the difficulties of their time and made significant contributions to our Church and to our nation," he said, calling them examples of "what it means to be a Catholic."

"Boston and Georgia are united this evening in the memory of this fine family, and we must be united in our commitment to carry on the legacy of evangelization into our futures. The Healy family did that. Sister Antona Ebo, Sister Francesca Thompson, (and) Sister Thea Bowman did that. Now the task is ours," Archbishop Gregory said.