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Degree recipients named

Kelly Meehan | Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A U.S. Supreme Court justice, an advocate for Philadelphia’s homeless population and a theologian will be the recipients of honorary degrees during Saint Mary’s commencement ceremonies, College officials announced Monday.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito – who will also address the 2007 graduates – will be the recipient of an honorary degree, along with Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder and executive director of Project H.O.M.E. (Housing, Opportunities for employment, Medical care, Education) and Dr. Bernard McGinn, the Naomi Shenstone Donnelly Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Executive Assistant to the President Susan Dampeer said this year’s recipients fulfill the College’s quest for “someone who has achieved the highest level of success within their field and made a difference in the world.”

Dampeer said the honorees are chosen in a method similar to the commencement speaker’s selection.

Nominations must be supported by significant information and then pass several reviews by College committees before the final decision is made by the College president. According to the selection process guidelines, nominees must exhibit significant achievements marked by “recognized intellectual and personal attainment,” “significant contribution to the enhancement of Saint Mary’s College” and “contribution to other recognized organizations in the city, state or world” – traits Dampeer said each of the honorees possess.

“[Saint Mary’s] is excited to present these degrees,” she said, “but the recipients are equally excited to receive them.”

Alito will receive an honorary degree for his national leadership after being nominated to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush. He was sworn in on Jan. 31, 2006, after previously serving as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit – a position President George H. W. Bush appointed him to in 1990.

Alito, who is the 11th Catholic to serve on the Supreme Court and the fifth on the current Court, has also held many high-profile positions, including Assistant to Solicitor General Rex E. Lee, Deputy Assistant to Attorney General Edwin Meese and U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.

Dampeer said the Sisters of the Holy Cross were pleased to present Scullion with a degree for her dedication to breaking the cycle of homelessness and poverty in the Philadelphia area.

For over 30 years, Scullion has dedicated her life to aiding the homeless and mentally ill, and as the executive director of Project H.O.M.E. She has expanded that program from an emergency winter shelter when it opened in 1989 to 273 units of housing and three businesses that provide employment to those who were previously homeless.

As a political activist, Scullion has also worked to give the homeless the right to vote, and she influenced a court decision that improved fair housing rights for those with disabilities.

In 2002, the city of Philadelphia awarded her the Ford Foundation’s prestigious Leadership for a Changing World Award.

McGinn – a preeminent scholar of mysticism in the Western Christian tradition – taught at the University of Chicago Divinity School from 1969 to 2003.

McGinn, whose wife Patricia is a Saint Mary’s alumna, is a fellow of the Medieval Academy and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has served as the president of the American Society of Church History and of the American Catholic Historical Association. He is currently president of the Medieval Academy of America.

Dampeer said all three honorary degree recipients will be present at the May 19 commencement ceremony, and may or may not choose to give a brief acceptance speech.

She said the College typically awards between three and five honorary degrees, but has in some cases awarded up to 10.