Gustavo Gutierrez

Campus Honors Champion of the Poor

Elmhurst College will present its highest honor, the Niebuhr Medal, to Gustavo Gutiérrez, the Roman Catholic priest and acknowledged "Father of Liberation Theology," for his lifetime of service to humanity, especially the poor.

A renowned theologian and champion for the rights of the world's "poorest of the poor," Gutiérrez challenges Christians to join in a sustained fight against material poverty.

Father Gutiérrez will receive the medal at a ceremony on Sunday, September 20, at 7:00 p.m. on the Elmhurst College campus, in Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, 190 Prospect Ave., Elmhurst, Ill. The event is free and the public is invited to attend. For more information, call (630) 617-3390.

"Gustavo Gutiérrez is among the most thoughtful and effective advocates for the poor in today's world," said S. Alan Ray, president of the College. "Because his witness embodies the core values of Elmhurst College, awarding the Niebuhr Medal to this humble servant of faith will serve as a powerful symbol of the College's commitment to personal dignity and social justice."

Inspired by Gutiérrez's message, and in an effort to deepen its meaning for the Elmhurst College community and beyond, the College will offer opportunities throughout the academic year to confront and explore the issue of poverty in DuPage County.
Among them:

  • A community forum that will bring together experts and resources from social service agencies, educational institutions and other sources to share information and ways to get involved in fighting poverty.
  • A project by the College's News Writing class in which students will research the nature and extent of poverty in DuPage County, and will present their findings through articles and graphics in an upcoming issue of the College's Prospect magazine.
  • A Web site that will post ongoing efforts by Elmhurst College students and faculty to address aspects of poverty ranging from hunger to lack of access to education and health care.
  • Student organizations, such as the newly formed Global Poverty Club, will organize hands-on and educational efforts throughout the year.

"Our service to the poor begins with the recognition that we at the College are part of a global family, whose choices—economic, environmental, and social—affect the lives of everyone around us, whether in DuPage County or far beyond," Ray said. "Especially in this time of recession, we are mindful of those struggling to live and to labor with dignity. As a College, we will provide education around poverty as well as direct service to those in need. In so doing, we will realize our core value, announced in our new Strategic Plan, to ‘act on our social responsibilities and call on others to do the same.' "

The Niebuhr Medal recognizes extraordinary service in the tradition of Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr, graduates of Elmhurst College and two of the 20th Century's most influential theologians and public intellectuals.

A native of Peru, Father Gutiérrez grew up in poverty but came to study at three of the leading universities in Europe. His 1971 book, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation, stands as the seminal text of a social and intellectual movement that calls Christians to stand against the injustice of poverty. In the Third World, Liberation Theology is a potent and enduring force in support of economic change and human dignity.

The priest-scholar is the John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, and has served as a visiting professor at universities in Europe and in North and South America.

The Niebuhr Medal was established in 1995. Prior recipients include Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, archbishop of Chicago; Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund; Lech Walesa, founder of Solidarity and the first democratically elected president of Poland; Millard and Linda Fuller, co-founders of Habitat for Humanity International; and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., distinguished historian and presidential adviser.

The medal is named for Elmhurst College alumni Reinhold Niebuhr and his brother, H. Richard Niebuhr, who served as the College's sixth president. The brothers rank among the pre-eminent American theologians of the 20th Century. Their bold scholarship and commitment to social engagement helped shape the political and religious thinking of their time—and ours.

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