CRS president to speak at commencement

Thomas Celona

Kenneth Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, will be this year’s commencement speaker.

According to a press release issued this week, Hackett will address the Class of ’08 during the University Commencement on May 18 at 10 a.m. The event is scheduled to occur in the Villanova Stadium but will be moved to the Pavilion in the case of inclement weather.

Hackett will receive the degree of Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa. Also, the University will award five additional honorary degrees at the ceremony.

Hackett, a ’68 graduate of Boston College, joined CRS in 1972 as a program officer in Sierra Leone. He later held multiple roles working with CRS’ operations overseas. He was regional director for Africa, working to lead CRS’ response to the Ethiopian famine in 1984-’85, and country representative for the Philippines.

Hackett later assumed positions at CRS’ world headquarters, including director of external affairs and executive director.

As executive director, Hackett launched a strategic planning exercise to refine CRS’ mission and identity, using Catholic social teaching to instill a justice-center focus to its programming.

In 2003, CRS appointed Hackett as its new president. Hackett now oversees CRS’ operations in over 100 countries and leads a worldwide staff of almost 5,000 individuals.

In addition to his efforts with CRS, Hackett works with a variety of other social justice organizations.

He previously held the position of North American president of Caritas Interationalis, the Catholic Church’s confederation of humanitarian agencies.

Currently, he is a member of the Africa Society; the Pontifical Commission Cor Unum, the boards that organize the Church’s charitable work; and the U.S. Bishop’s Migration and Refugee Services and International Policy Committee.

Furthermore, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Hackett’s nomination to the board of directors of the Millenium Challenge Corporation in 2004.

The corporation is a federally sponsored organization focused on increasing aid to nations that are committed to encouraging economic freedom and social justice.

In addition to Hackett’s role as the commencement speaker, the University and CRS already have a unique relationship. In May of 2005, the University and CRS signed a formal memorandum to collaborate in advocacy, education, research and service.

Villanova is one of five Catholic colleges to make this agreement with CRS.

The partnership involves both faculty and students, as 12 Villanova students serve as CRS ambassadors, working to educate their peers on issues such as fair trade, food security and immigration.

The five other recipients of honorary degrees will be artist Jane Golden, author Greg Mortenson, Smith College professor Dr. Eric Reeves, music historian Harrison Ridley Jr. and Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir.

Golden currently serves as the director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and is renowned for her murals.

She will receive the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa.

Mortenson is the author of “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time.” He will receive the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Reeves teaches English language and literature at Smith College.

He is also known as an activist for the victims of persecution in Sudan. Reeves will receive the degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa.

Ridley taught music history at Temple University for 26 years.

He also hosted a program on WRTI, a classical and jazz music public radio station, according to the Temple Times.

Ridley will receive the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa.

Sfeir is the Patriarch of Anticoch and the Whole Levant in Lebanon. As Patriatch, he is the head of the Maronite Church, a community within the Catholic Church.

He will receive the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.