Retiring Siena Dean Receives Francis Medal

HNP Communications Around the Province

Daniel Dwyer and Mark Reamer present the Francis Medal to James Harrison (Photo courtesy of Lisa Witkowski)

Last month, the friars of St. Bernardine of Siena Friary presented a long-time Siena College staff member with the HNP Francis Medal, for his “uncommon contribution to the advancement of the values and ideals of St. Francis of Assisi.” The story below, a modified version of a Siena news release, has been edited for style. 

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — A rewarding career for James Harrison in teaching, administration and scholarly research has been capped off with receiving Holy Name Province’s Francis Medal.

The medal was presented May 24 by Daniel Dwyer, OFM, and Mark Reamer, OFM, as a surprise after the friars hosted Harrison for dinner at the campus friary. The citation read: “Your generosity and sacrifice has enriched our human family and given concrete expression to the spirit of St. Francis.”

After giving nearly four decades of exemplary service to Siena College, Harrison is retiring as a professor of history and dean of the school of liberal arts.

Mark, guardian of Siena’s friary and chief mission officer of the college, wrote in his recommendation for Harrison’s award: “Throughout his years at the college, Jim has promoted the Franciscan tradition and embodied its mission. He has come to live it and teach it through the witness of his life on campus.”

“Over the years, Jim has always stressed the importance of the friar’s role at Siena,” said Dan. “He has valued the presence of Franciscans in the history department and has stated, on more than one occasion, that, while not himself a Catholic, he has imbibed much of the Franciscan spirit during his time at the college.”

Jim Harrison was invited to join the friars for dinner and to share his reflections upon his almost four decades at Siena.  A major part of Jim’s reflection centered upon the influence of the Franciscan tradition as he experienced it at Siena, notably through several friars, including Dan and fellow history professors Walter Armijo and John Murphy.  In presenting the medal, Mark responded to Jim in these words: “Jim, during your 37 years here at Siena College, you have become a trusted friend to the friars, offering wise counsel, humble guidance, genuine companionship and compassionate leadership. Throughout your years at the college, you have promoted the Franciscan tradition and embodied its mission. You have come to live it and teach it through the witness of your life on campus.”

Upon accepting the medal, Harrison reflected on his parents, and their recognition of the value of their son’s association with a Franciscan college. “They both would have been bursting with pride at the honor you gave me with the St. Francis medal and for what it stands,” he said. “Receiving the medal and the Walton Teaching Award in 2003 are the two greatest events in my time at Siena because they validate a career dedicated to the college and the ideals of the teachings of St. Francis.”

A combat helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy from 1967 to 1972, Harrison’s scholarly research has led to dozens of journal publications and helped inform supplements in Western civilization and world civilizations textbooks. At Siena, he was a popular professor known for his engaging lessons that focused on intellectual activities, discussions and conversation. Harrison was equally fond of the students he helped transform, noting, “Siena students are inquisitive, thoughtful, and most important they have a sense of responsibility for themselves and the world they are about to enter.”

The HNP Francis Medal was established in 1998 by then-Provincial Minister John Felice, OFM. Recipients are people who have displayed an uncommon contribution to the advancement of the ideals and values of St. Francis.

Last summer, the medal was given to Siena College alumnus Jack Sise, ’75, who had worked in the school’s development office. Most recently, the medal was presented by friars in Wilmington, Del., Raleigh, N.C., and Buffalo, N.Y.

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