Friars Recognize New York City Mayor with Francis Medal

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK — On the day before Earth Day, the friars presented the Province’s Francis Medal to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, acknowledging his “green” initiatives for the largest city in the country, where Franciscans have served for almost 150 years.

The April 21 presentation was made at Holy Name of Jesus School on West 97th Street at a ceremony that included music, prayer and words of gratitude. Students, teachers, administrators, staff members and parishioners joined the friars in recognizing Mayor Bloomberg for his work to improve the environment.

Daniel Kenna, OFM, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Church, welcomed students and visitors to the morning event. 

“We are a multi-cultural diverse community that is deeply committed to our neighborhood, to promoting the common good, to caring for the poor, to promoting the dignity of all, and to protecting our environment in view of the good of all,” Dan said. “Inspired by Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology, we believe we are all part of God’s creation and are called to enter into solidarity with one another to become a cosmic fraternity, animated by the love that flows from our creator. For your attempts as our mayor to show us how to do this, we are deeply grateful.”

After remarks by several members of the community, Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, presented the mayor with the Francis Medal, created in 1998 to recognize people who contribute to the values and ideals of St. Francis of Assisi.

Dominic began by describing the covenant of God with human beings and all creation in the Hebrew scriptures and briefly explained Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures, with its vision of the mutual connectedness of everything in creation. He reminded the audience that St. Francis “lived in a different world than we do,” and that with the rise of modern science and technology, “contemporary humans have the capacity to affect the cosmic balance and even to destroy our earthly home. As the modern ecological movement began, emerging in the late 1960s, Francis’ vision has again become compelling, and Pope John Paul II declared him the patron of those who promote ecology.”

In this spirit, Dominic described the efforts the mayor has taken to raise consciousness of responsibility toward the earth.

Reasons for Award
Holy Name Friary resident Brian Jordan, OFM, nominated the mayor for the medal because of the wide variety of initiatives he has launched to help the environment and practice the ideals of St. Francis, whom Mayor Bloomberg has said he admires. “The mayor’s public actions on behalf of the environment have both embraced Franciscan values and have been a trendsetter for other cities around the world toward green initiatives,” said Brian.

Examples of Mayor Bloomberg’s environmental work, cited by Dominic, include:

• Banning smoking in public places. “The smoking ban, though at first controversial, has proven to be a lifesaver for employees working in bars, restaurants and other public places,” Brian said. “New York City was the first major city in the world to take this bold initiative, and many other cities and states have followed suit worldwide. Because it has reduced internal pollution, public places are now a joy to visit,” said Brian.

• Upgrading recycling operations. The mayor encouraged new, innovative methods for recycling and rewarded those who came up with creative and budget-saving methods. The city has won many awards from environmental groups for its recycling efforts, Brian said.

• Initiating green-friendly building. Under the mayor, New York City was among the first major cities to encourage and, in some cases, demand green-friendly construction of new building, or renovation and retrofitting of older buildings, Brian said. Financial savings have been achieved through the use of solar panels and environment-friendly building materials. The EPIC building on West 31st Street, partially owned by the friars, is one example.

• Revitalizing park areas for joggers, bikers and walkers in business districts, including Times Square, and along the Hudson and East river waterfronts and Jamaica Bay.

Presentation and Celebration
Last week’s medal presentation involved the entire Holy Name School student body, as well as members of the parish and all friars who live at Holy Name.

Lawrence Ford, OFM, called the program to order, and school principal John Joven welcomed visitors. Student Justin Lowery welcomed the mayor, thanking Mayor Bloomberg for “the job you are doing to protect our future.” The Holy Name School choir, led by Laurie Gromach, sang, ending the program with a spirited rendition of “Go Make A Difference.” Others who participated are listed on the program.

The event, videotaped for posting on the city’s website, was a way to celebrate the Franciscan tradition of interreligious dialogue, as well as to offer a teachable moment to the schoolchildren, Brian said.

“I recall our Chapter of 2005, where T-shirts were distributed that read: ‘SHALOM, SALAAM, PEACE!’” he added. “It is positive move to give the Francis Medal to a Jewish mayor and philanthropist.”

BloombergMayor Bloomberg, who mentioned his ties to the Franciscans, is supportive of the Province’s social outreach programs, especially St. Francis Friends of the Poor. The Francis Medal was the first recognition he has received from a religious organization for his environmental work.

He described to his young audience the reasons he tries to help the environment.

“I want to be sure my two daughters have a clean place to live,” he said. “This is the city that they and you will inherit. It is your home. Ecology comes from a Greek word for home. We have to remember the earth is a home for all people — now and in the future.”

He also gave examples of how to keep the city clean. “It’s easy to pick up pieces of paper that you notice on the street,” he told the students.

Mayor Bloomberg, who participated in the 2007 dedication of the Province’s building at 129 West 31st Street in Manhattan, said he was pleased to receive the award and to show it to his staff members who “do all the work to improve the environment.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is communications director for Holy Name Province.