The Fr. Raymond Helmick, S.J., Memorial Committee held its second lecture honoring the achievements of eminent theologian and peacemaker, the late Fr. Helmick, on the evening of April 22 in Devlin 008.
Rev. Dr. Jesse Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and a pivotal religious, civil rights, and political figure, delivered the keynote address. His talk concerned the current global political environment and its impact on approaches to faith and peacemaking, human rights, and conflict transformation. His address was followed by a Q&A panel.
Jackson is a long-time colleague and collaborator of Fr. Helmick’s. He sent Raymond M. Barry, Fr. Helmick’s nephew and co-founder of the Memorial Committee, a letter describing what he had learned from Fr. Helmick through his work with him. This letter was read at the conclusion of the Fr. Helmick’s Funeral Mass as a testament to the duo’s camaraderie and as a tribute to Fr. Helmick’s indispensable contributions to the global political environment.
The organizers of the event included Professors John and Susan Michalczyk, who worked with Fr. Helmick—also known as Fr. Ray—to produce a series of documentary films with him from 1997 onward; Rev. Rodney J. Petersen, the Executive Director of the Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries (CMM) and the Lord’s Day Alliance of the US, who worked with Fr. Ray on annual ecumenical conferences convened world-wide; and Professor Jerome Maryon, Esq., who worked with Fr. Helmick for over a decade at BC and through the Interreligious Center for Public Life, Inc. (ICPL, Inc.).
Professor Maryon first met Fr. Helmick while serving as a guide and coordinator for Palestinian representative Afif Safieh’s visit to Greater Boston at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Fr. Helmick requested to meet with Safieh to discuss peace-making efforts in the Middle East, so Professor Maryon arranged a meeting between the two. Fr. Helmick invited Prof. Maryon to team-teach shortly thereafter. The duo taught courses in Conflict Transformation at Boston College for over a decade.
Raymond M. Barry delivered the opening remarks of the memorial lecture. He, alongside Marie Barry, Fr. Helmick's sister and co-founder of the Memorial Committee, Stephen D. Barry, Fr. Helmick’s brother-in-law, and Jennifer Helmick, Fr. Helmick’s niece and future biographer, have been vital to the formation and arrangement of the Memorial Committee and its lecture series.
Barry, in his opening remarks, asserted that one of the most endearing qualities of Fr. Helmick was his ability to consider the intersectionality of conflicts, leveraging an understanding of opposing viewpoints to effect a peaceful resolution.
Fr. Helmick’s work in conflict resolution in Ireland, Israel, Lebanon, Kurdish Iraq, Palestine, and the Balkans sought to bridge gaps in belief, class, culture, and more. In particular, Barry highlighted Fr. Helmick’s steadfast commitment to peacemaking through compassion.
Rev. Jackson, in his remarks, sought to acknowledge the significance of human dignity, morality, and prudence in structuring peaceful solutions to ongoing global conflicts. He also hoped to connect these priorities in his tribute to Fr. Helmick and his contributions.
“There are several qualities Father Ray had that are particularly striking to me. He chose a side of history. He swam upstream. He took the high ground in resolving conflicts,” he commented.
“Peacemakers are always engaged in a struggle with wall-builders,” Rev. Jackson asserted. “I was able to learn a lot from him [Father Ray] in my time traveling across the world with him to war zones: about empowering people through peace and equality, and economic and social justice.”
He also explained his and Fr. Helmick’s experience in shaping global political conversations as a function of a faith-based approach to implementing justice.
“Our religion made us political. Our politics did not make us religious. Our goal was to use faith as a tool to guide the peacemaking process and unite groups in war zones.”
Rev. Jackson also addressed glaring inconsistencies in the national and global political climates. He called for an authentic, progressive approach to leadership in response to questions from panelists Jerome Maryon, Akosua Achampong (MCAS ’18), Chiamaka Okorie (CSON ’17), and Dan Bunch (Counselor and Special Projects Consultant, Learning to Learn Office) and the greater audience.
“How can a nation strive to be a global leader with a nationalist agenda?” he asked. “How can a leader claim to buy American and hire American with hotels all over Europe? These things simply do not add up.”
Commenting on the formation of the nation’s political agenda, Rev. Jackson underscored the importance of morality and perseverance in beliefs.
“In a changing global climate, one thing that has endured is a system of changeless values,” he asserted. “This includes human rights, dignity, and compassion, and has kept us rooted through changing times.”
Rev. Jackson, in closing his remarks, encouraged an openness of the mind, a willingness to listen to others, and an unwavering commitment to bridging differences as the catalysts for a sustainable future.
The next lecture event is to be held during the 2017–18 academic year and it may feature a panel of experts in Conflict Transformation who would summarize Fr. Helmick’s achievements in the field and discuss ways to build on his contributions.
Additionally, Prof. Maryon and Rev. Petersen are in the process of developing a two-volume anthology pertaining to Fr. Helmick’s work in Conflict Transformation.
“Volume I will feature essays that expound, in smart, specific detail, the global reach of Fr. Ray’s endeavors. In turn, Volume II will feature essays that expand upon those endeavors,” Prof. Maryon asserted.
In addressing the ongoing endeavors of the memorial committee in the context of the forthcoming anthology and the next lecture, Prof. Maryon underscored the need for students to be able to access Fr. Helmick’s story, experiences, and invaluable contributions as a means of enrichment and preparation for global citizenship.
Part of this would be done through Fr. Ray’s published works and through the two-volume anthology. Part would also be done through the materials being prepared by the John J. Burns Librarian, Christian Dupont (who also serves as the Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, such as Fr. Ray’s collection), and his staff in Burns.
Already, many boxes have been prepared and delivered to Burns by Marie, Steve, and Ray Barry. “This will be a rich resource,” said Prof. Maryon.
The leadoff question to Rev. Jackson on Saturday night was posed by Prof. Maryon. He invited the Memorial Committee’s guest to describe the vision that Rev. Jackson had shared with Fr. Ray. That made for a splendid substantive opening to the conversation. Overall, though, Prof. Maryon pointed to the immediate follow-up question as being the key question for BC students.
“As Akosua noted on Saturday night’s panel, a crucial question now is: How does our new generation of students and future leaders of America appropriate the accomplishments of Fr. Ray to themselves? How do they build out the legacy?”
The Memorial Committee hopes not only to shed light on the aforementioned questions through future events, but to foster an open forum for discussion and student formation in the spirit of Fr. Helmick’s unwavering commitment to authentic intellectual inquiry, progressive reform, and moral decision-making.