Hecker Award recipient wants to ‘stretch people’s hearts’
by Stefani Manowski
February 2, 2012

It was a cold, windy and cloudy day in Boston but minds of the 20-or-so people gathered for a workshop at the Paulist Center on the afternoon of Jan. 28 had been transported to a world of crows living in the American Southwest.

The participants were mentally carried away as theologian, author and storyteller Dr. Megan McKenna told the story of three crows, a Native American rite-of-passage tale that is both wisdom and warning.

The Hecker Award for Social Justice is presented to Dr. Megan McKenna during Mass on the evening of Jan. 28.The Hecker Award for Social Justice is presented to Dr. Megan McKenna during Mass on the evening of Jan. 28.

Dr. McKenna, the prolific author of 50 books, then shared her own wisdom with the Paulist Center community during Mass that evening as she accepted the 2012 Hecker Award for Social Justice.

“The only reason I am here receiving this award is because I listen to other people’s stories, how they practice their faith and struggle against violence and injustice,” Dr. McKenna said. “They share their wisdom and interpretation of the Scriptures, and that is what is in my books.”

The Paulist Center began the annual Hecker Award in 1974 to honor an outstanding American Catholic who put their faith in action in order to bring about a more just and peaceful world. The award is named after Paulist Founder Servant of God Father Isaac T. Hecker, himself a writer and lecturer who strived to bridge the gap between faith and culture.

Dr. Megan McKenna addresses the Paulist Center congregation of the Paulist Center in Boston.
Dr. Megan McKenna addresses the Paulist Center congregation of the Paulist Center in Boston.

A native of New York City, Dr. McKenna works with indigenous groups around the world including base Christian communities, parishes, dioceses and religious orders. Her involvement with Pax Christi includes serving on the United States Board of Pax Christi as well as a Pax Christi ambassador of peace.

The only female graduate of the Paulists’ own St. Paul’s College in Washington, D.C., Dr. McKenna also holds graduate degrees in Scripture and adult education and literacy from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and a master’s degree in systematic theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She brings her knowledge and experience teaching and colleges and universities as well as facilitating lectures, retreats and parish missions around the world.

Dr. Megan McKenna chatted with congregants after Mass at the Paulist Center Jan. 28.Dr. Megan McKenna chatted with congregants after Mass at the Paulist Center Jan. 28.

“Grounded in and informed by the meaning of Scripture, Megan’s writings tackle many of the issues of our day,” said Susan Rutkowski, social justice minister at the Paulist Center who introduced Dr. McKenna to the congregation. “She addresses the ever-widening economic and resource gaps nationally and internationally, the role of women in church and society and the global challenges for the use of our natural resources. She offers a blueprint for the contemporary analysis and action for social justice. … Megan’s work and example call us all to tell our faith stories, of how God touches our lives.”

Anyone in the Paulist Center community can nominate an individual for the Hecker Award according to Mrs. Rutkowski. A selection committee that includes members of the different social justice ministries at the center and at least one Paulist priest discerns the nominations. The parish council then confirms the nominee. Past recipients include Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Sister Helen Prejean and Martin Sheen.

“This award was a great surprise,” said Dr. McKenna. “I want to stretch people’s hearts and stretch people’s minds.”

Father Frank Desiderio, CSP, director of the Paulist Center in Boston, gets a book autographed by Dr. Megan McKenna.Father Frank Desiderio, CSP, director of the Paulist Center in Boston, gets a book autographed by Dr. Megan McKenna.