[CUA Office of Public Affairs]

CUA Alumnus, Lecturer Awarded Nation’s Highest Civilian Honor

Washington, D.C. (Aug. 9) — Monsignor George G. Higgins, an alumnus and former lecturer of The Catholic University of America, received the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton in a ceremony today at the White House.

The award recognizes Monsignor Higgins, once called "the labor movement’s parish priest," for his dedication to the cause of worker rights. For more than 50 years he has been a vocal supporter of the labor movement and an advocate for social justice.

"I was pleased the way they (the White House) described the honor — that it was because of my work in labor," Monsignor Higgins said. "If it brings attention to the labor cause, then it’s a good thing."

In the ceremony, Monsignor Higgins, 84, shared honors with 11 other individuals including former Sen. George McGovern, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Simon Wiesenthal, who devoted his life to developing evidence for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.

A Chicago native, Monsignor Higgins earned master’s and doctoral degrees from CUA. He recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination as a priest. He has lived on CUA’s campus for 20 years and has taught social ethics courses including Catholic Labor School Movement and Current Labor Problems.

He was appointed to the staff of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (now the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference) in 1944 and retired as secretary for Special Concerns in1980.

He served as chairman of the public review board of the United Auto Workers and chairman of the board of the United Farmworkers’ Martin Luther King Jr., Fund, as member of the Dunlop Commission on Farm Labor and the National Council on Foundations, and as consultant to the Bishops’ Committee on Farm Labor.

He was a member of the Preparatory Commission on the Lay Apostolate for Vatican Council II and a consultant to the council, chairman of the Bishop’s Advisory Committee for Catholic-Jewish Relations, advisor to the chairman of the U.S. delegation to the Belgrade Conference on Human Rights, and member of the executive committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Finding renewed hope for church-labor relations in the new millennium, Monsignor Higgins said he is most pleased with the establishment of the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, based in Chicago.

"It’s a very good organization, the best I have seen in my lifetime. Many Catholics are involved in it," he said.

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