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2011 Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Award Recipient
Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, Th.D.

Thank you very much, Archbishop Pilarczyk for your kind and generous words and thank you to the Common Ground Initiative, which from its inception until today has been an inspiration in the life of the Church.  This award is particularly meaningful for me, first of all because it is named for Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.  There are other people in this room who worked longer with Cardinal Bernardin and closer with him than I had the opportunity to do, but the multiple opportunities I had to serve with him is the kind of experience that not only shapes your mind, but your heart and your conception of what it means to be Catholic.  Receiving the award from an organization where I have been privileged to share on the board is to receive it from friends whose work I admire and was privileged to be associated with.  I think the significance of the award is captured perhaps in the answer to two questions.  Whence does it come and to whom is it dedicated? 

The significance of this award is not the persons who receives it, it is the way in which this reward reminds us all of what the initial animating vision of the Common Ground Initiative was, a vision that was the project of many people, some of them in this hall tonight and associated with it from the beginning, but at the heart of many people who developed this vision there always stood Joseph Bernardin, his conception of the life of the Church, his conviction that the church should be in the midst of the world to remind us of the document of Vatican II, The Church in the World.  And the award in a sense mandates us to continue the original inspiring vision.  The Cardinal was worried about polarization in the life of the Church and he sought to create a center around which the Church could gather.  A realist if there ever was one, Cardinal Bernardin had no illusions that that meant everyone would say the same thing, sing the same song, walk the same road, but he did believe that you could walk more than one road, and stay within the capacious framework of the Catholic vision of life.  And so the importance of this award is to continue that kind of conception of the church.  One of our board members, Professor Lisa Cahill, remarked this afternoon that the problems are different than when Common Ground was first designed and that undoubtedly is the case.  To some degree we are a different Church living in a different world but the point is that the capacious vision of Catholicism that undergirds the award helps us to face new problems, new times, and that is partly the creative task that Common Ground has to continue. 

Beyond where the award comes from it is of course always a reminder of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.  When Walter Burkhart, the great Jesuit, preached the homily for John Courtney Murray’s funeral Mass, he said he remembered a man, a mind, and a manner and those words came back to me when I tried to think about Joseph Bernardin meant not only to me, but many others.  As a man he exhibited a kind of full bodied humanity, the human spirit enriched by the Christian spirit, a man of significant wisdom, hard earned wisdom, was joined with very deep humility.  A man with a powerful sense of responsibility when decisions had to be made, but a sense of charity for all those who would be affected by the decisions.  The mind that he had was the mind of a man of the Church, steeped in the Catholic tradition, convinced of its truth, recognizing that it is as Murray said, a truth with a growing edge, and committed to sharing that truth as broadly as he could.  And the manner of the man was the gifts of the Holy Spirit on display, wisdom, judgment, charity, courage, for these things we need always to remember that example and this organization animated by it is the best way among others to keep his legacy before us, not because he would wish that his personality would be at the forefront, but that his church would reflect the vision that this organization is committed to and so I thank you deeply for the award.  It will be a constant goal to try to imitate the values that the Common Ground Initiative embodies in my own life.  Thank you very much.