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USA: Walking with Refugees Award Reception for Fr Ken Gavin SJ
01 December 2016

Fr. Kenneth J. Gavin S.J. visits with refugees in South Africa. (Jesuit Refugee Service)
"You know that night is gone and day is here when you can look into the eyes of the total stranger and see the eyes of a brother or sister."

Washington DC, 1 December 2016 - Fr. Kenneth J. Gavin SJ, Assistant International Director, will be honoured with the Grace Kobbe Tevis Award for Extraordinary Service at a special event in New York today.

Fr. Gavin has dedicated the past decade of his life to helping refugees and displaced people worldwide. He served as Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA for seven years before being appointed to the JRS headquarters in Rome in 2011. 

During his time with JRS, Fr. Gavin travelled widely to accompany refugees, and his distinguished service around accompaniment, reconciliation, and staff care have strengthened JRS programs globally. 

He worked to advance advocacy outreach on many international issues, such as increasing U.S. State Department assistance to Colombian refugees, advocating for the resettlement of Bhutanese refugees, and flagging protection concerns of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Before coming to JRS he had extensive international experience with Jesuit ministries. 

Fr. Gavin, who was ordained a priest in 1975, earned a PhD in speech-language pathology at Northwestern University and taught for almost a decade at Marquette University. Later, in 1992, he began a four-year term as president of Regis High School in New York City and then served for six years as the Provincial of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus. 

About the Award 

Grace Kobbe Tevis was a philanthropist with a special interest in Catholic organizations. She was a loyal supporter of Jesuit Refugee Service., and JRS recently received a $1M bequest from her estate to assist refugees from the wars in the Middle East. 

Grace also supported the Medical Missionaries of Mary who provide medical assistance to the poorest of the poor in Africa. She funded Our Lady of Grace Nativity School in San Jose, California which offers Catholic education to inner city girls. Grace died on Feb. 7, 2016, at the age of 94. 

An excerpt from Fr Gavin's acceptance speech

Fr. Ken Gavin SJ knew Grace Tevis since his early days at JRS in Washington and in the years that followed they enjoyed a warm and engaging friendship. Together they shared their commitment to the needs of the refugees that JRS served throughout the world. 

Here is an excerpt of Fr. Gavin's acceptance speech the Grace Kobbe Tevis Award for Extraordinary Service:

"Someone once told me that a good story is never content to be just a story. I'd like to begin my comments tonight with a story told of rabbi who gathered his best and brightest young students around him and asked them what he thought was a simple by profound question: How do you know when night is gone and day has come? You know that night is gone and day is here when you can look into the eyes of the total stranger and see the eyes of a brother or sister. Until that time you are always living in darkness. 

Today there are more than 65 million refugees and other forcibly displaced people in our world—a staggering figure that is larger in number than anything we have seen since WW II. But, as we all know, statistics like these can be overwhelming and alone they don't capture the full reality of today's refugee situation. To tell the truth, our work is difficult. Our work with displaced people—whether they be in Syria or Jordan, Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of Congo, or in detention centres throughout our own country—draws us into a world of incredible hardship, unimaginable loss, deep poverty and hopelessness. 

But, despite the darkness that swirls around us, JRS continues to find joy in accompanying, serving and defending the rights of these people. The simple reason, as our mission statement highlights, is that we are inspired by the compassionate love of Jesus for the poor and the excluded. Accompanying refugees--this is what has given tremendous meaning and joy to my life—and to the lives of so many others in JRS over the past 36 years."

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Martina Bezzini