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Doctor James O’Connell, founder of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, to Deliver 2017 Holy Cross Commencement Address

Dr. O’Connell and two others — Clementina Chéry, who created a peace institute after the fatal shooting of her son, and Rev. Robert Kennedy, S.J., professor and only American Jesuit Zen roshi — will also receive honorary degrees
April 5th, 2017 by 
Dr. James O'Connell talks with homeless community members in Boston

John Baynard

Dr. James J. 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 receive an honorary degree from the College of the Holy Cross and address this year’s graduates during the College’s Commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 26, at 10:30 a.m. at the DCU Center in Worcester.

Dr. O’Connell has dedicated his medical career to caring for Boston’s homeless. His leadership has contributed to the growth of the BHCHP since its founding in 1985 to become the country’s largest and most comprehensive program of its kind, serving more than 12,000 homeless people a year in two hospital-based clinics and more than 60 shelters and outreach sites. Throughout his 30 years at the helm, Dr. O’Connell has continued 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 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 1989–1996. In addition to publishing articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, Circulation, American Journal of Public Health and Journal of Clinical Ethics, he is the editor of “The Health Care of Homeless Persons: A Manual of Communicable Diseases and Common Problems in Shelters and on the Streets” (BHCHP Press, 2004). He published his first book, “Stories from the Shadows: Reflections of a Street Doctor” (BHCHP Press), in 2015.

The recipient of numerous awards, including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award in 2012 and the Trustees’ Medal at the bicentennial celebration of Massachusetts General Hospital in 2011, Dr. O’Connell is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Cambridge University and Harvard Medical School.

Dr. O’Connell was recently featured on “CBS Evening News” for his work with Boston’s homeless. Watch the segment below:

Honorary Degree Recipients

In addition to Dr. O’Connell, the College will award honorary degrees to the following individuals at Commencement:

Clementina Chéry is the president and CEO of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Boston. Chaplain Chéry founded the Institute in 1994 following the fatal shooting of her 15-year-old son, Louis David Brown, to teach young people the value of peace, to leverage the assets in her community and to transform society’s response to homicide. With funding from the Boston Public Health Commission, she developed the Institute’s core program, Survivors Outreach Services (SOS), to offer emotional and practical support for families in the days immediately following a homicide. She went on to establish innovative programs and publish tools for families of victims and the providers who serve them, including “Always in My Heart: A Workbook for Grieving Children” (The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, 2011) and the “Survivors Burial and Resource Guide” (The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, 2013). She also coauthored an article titled “Homicide Survivors: Research and Practice Implications” published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2005. Chéry founded both the Serving Survivors of Homicide Victims Providers Network and the Massachusetts Survivors of Homicide Victims Network. 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.

In 2016, Chéry was selected as a Social Innovator by the Social Innovation Forum. She was also 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. She was awarded Salem State University’s Champion of Peace Award in 2014 and was named Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers in 2011. Chaplain Chéry was ordained as a senior chaplain with the International Fellowship of Chaplains, Inc. in February of 2012.

Rev. Robert Kennedy, S.J., Roshi, is professor emeritus of theology at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J., where he lives with the Jesuit Community. He is also the only American Jesuit priest who has also been installed as a Zen roshi (master teacher). Fr. Kennedy holds doctorates in theology and psychology, and has published two books on the intersection of Christianity and Zen Buddhism: “Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit: The Place of Zen in Christian Life” (Bloomsbury Academic, 1995) and “Zen Gifts to Christians”(Continuum, 2001). Fr. Kennedy’s practice embodies the principles articulated in the Jesuit statement on mission and interreligious dialogue which calls the Jesuits to engage in a dialogue of life, action, religious experience, and theological exchange.

He has lived his mission of conversation and collaboration in Mexico, Ecuador, England, Wales, Ireland and several centers in the United States. Joining the Jesuits in 1951, immediately following his graduation from Xavier High School in New York City, Fr. Kennedy studied and taught in Japan for eight years and was ordained a priest in Tokyo in 1965. He studied with three Zen masters: Yamada roshi of Kamakura, Japan, Maezumi roshi of Los Angeles, and Glassman roshi of the Zen Peacemaker Order in New York. Glassman roshi installed Kennedy as a Zen teacher (sensei) in 1991 and as a Roshi in 1997.

For more information on this year’s Commencement events, please visit the Commencement website.

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Comments (1)
  1. 2015 Alum says:

    Great selection of recipients and speaker!