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Sr. Mary Claire Kennedy to receive Romero Award

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sister Mary Claire Kennedy

Mercyhurst University and its Department of Religious Studies will present the 22nd Archbishop Oscar Romero Award to Sister Mary Claire Kennedy, SSJ, social justice coordinator for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania and an outspoken crusader against human trafficking.

She’ll receive the award during a ceremony on Wednesday, March 25, at 7 p.m. in Mercy Heritage Room in Mercyhurst’s Sullivan Hall. The public is welcome to attend. Sister Mary Claire, who has helped coordinate the newly formed Northwest Pennsylvania Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, will then discuss her efforts to educate the community about labor and sex trafficking and to seek prosecution of those who exploit women and children for personal or financial gain.

In addition to the fight against human trafficking, she is deeply involved in many local and global initiatives to promote peace and justice, providing education, advocacy and action on issues from war to health care, from environmental issues to human rights

Locally, she co-chairs the SSJ Annual Thanksgiving Dinner provided for the hungry and homeless in Erie and helps organize “Take Back the Site” vigils in response to the murders and acts of gun violence that plague the Erie community.

Sister Mary Claire earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Duquesne University and taught for many years at Villa Maria College. She also worked at the University of Wisconsin Madison and the University of Konstanz (Germany), and retired from the Medical College of Wisconsin as a full professor. She has lectured on issues related to biochemistry throughout the United States and Europe and published more than 60 academic articles.  

Mercyhurst presents the Romero Award annually to an individual or organization "living the call of faith and justice in an extraordinary manner." The award takes its name from the late archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, who is remembered for his uncompromising commitment to the poor and oppressed of El Salvador. He died from an assassin's bullet on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in San Salvador, and was recently declared a martyr for the Catholic faith.

The first Romero Award, in 1991, honored peace activist Fr. Daniel Berrigan. Since then the award has been presented to a wide range of leaders in the peace and justice movement, both in the Erie community and on the national/international stage. Previous recipients have included Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking; Sister Marilyn Lacey, RSM, founder of Mercy Beyond Borders; Jesuit peace activist John Dear; Erie’s L’Arche Community; and Sister Mary Lou Kownacki, former director of Pax Christi and a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization in Erie.

For more information, contact Daniel McFee, Ph.D., chair of the religious studies department, at 824-3607.