This week the Providence College Center for Theology and Religious Studies held its Spring Academic Colloquium.
We were pleased to welcome His Excellency Mr. Kenneth Hackett , who graciously accepted our invitation to visit and address our student body. Mr. Hackett is the current United States Ambassador to the Holy See. He was nominated to the post by President Barack Obama in June 2013, confirmed by the Senate in August 2013, and he presented his Credentials to Pope Francis on 21 October 2013.
Ambassador Hackett, originally of West Roxbury, Massachusetts, earned his undergraduate degree from Boston College. He then joined the Peace Corps, and served in Ghana. Afterwards, he joined Catholic Relief Services, an international humanitarian agency supported by the U.S. Catholic community, serving in Africa and Asia. He became president of Catholic Relief Services in 1993. And as President, Ambassador Hackett led 5,000 CRS employees in over 100 countries.
It was under his leadership that CRS responded to recovery efforts such as those following the Rwanda genocide, the Bosnian and Kosovo emergencies, the Asian tsunami, and the Haiti earthquake. Equally notable during his tenure as President was CRS’s work on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. Mr. Hackett retired from that post in 2012.
His Excellency and Mrs. Hackett have two children and most recently have been residents of Maryland and Florida. But now, of course, they are residents of the Eternal City. The Hackett’s more than 40 year history of working in the field of international human development brings a unique dimension to the service of diplomacy to the Vatican.
I asked the Ambassador to speak to us about his former work in developing countries and his new service in diplomacy here in Rome. The title for his presentation was: “From Charity Work to Diplomatic Service: A Personal View”.
He spoke to us of his personal journey beginning from his days at Boston college as an undergraduate trying to decide on a career. Joining the Peace Corps was a somewhat spontaneous decision, but one which proved to set a course for the rest of his life. He spoke passionately about how “service to others” is the most rewarding life. He challenged our students not to decide on a job “just because it pays a lot of money”. But, rather to do “‘something which makes you happy” and “stretches you and your imagination”.
At the heart of his presentation was his explanation of his commitment to Catholic social teaching and how his work at Catholic Relief Services was shaped by it every step of the way. He explained how as President of C.R.S., his goal was always to implement Catholic social teaching from “top to bottom” in the organization of over 5,000 people – many of whom were not Catholic.
Speaking of his diplomatic service as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, he talked about the “new approach” of Pope Francis to the papacy and his hope that the United States and the Holy See can work together on many “issues that affect human dignity, the poor, and people who are marginalized”. “There are many things that we can come together on – particularly peace.”
After his lecture, we gave him a Providence College tie as a token of our appreciation. Of course, I joked that he should wear this “Dominican tie” when he goes to his Jesuit alma mater, Boston College.
The Colloquium ended with a light reception during which His Excellency was able to mingle with the students as well as the CEA Rome Team, who worked so hard on the logistics of the event. Mr. Hackett ask the students about our program and their time in Rome, and even stayed to pose for a few photos.
Perhaps the best reaction I heard afterward was from a student who said: “I was expecting a much more formal lecture. But his talk was very personal and down to earth and I felt like he was speaking right to me. He spoke from the heart”.