Distinguished Alumnus Still Seeking Peace

08-17-2010 by

Alicia Leonardi
Seeds of Michael McConnell’s Ministry Planted Long Ago

McCormick Theological Seminary is pleased to honor Michael McConnell (M.Div., Class of 1971), with the 2010 Distinguished Alumnus Award for his nearly 45-year commitment to peacemaking. An outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin in the mid 1960s, McConnell chose graduate study at McCormick in part because it offered alternatives to traditional parish ministries and an atmosphere that engaged real issues of urban living.

“It was not just Hebrew and Church History Studies,” he said. “It opened my eyes to the reality of how most people in the world actually live.”

In 1983, McConnell traveled to the border of Honduras and Nicaragua. There his personal encounters with the families of those killed by fighters funded by the United States government further convicted him of the need to work for change on the level of policy-making by exposing the hidden pain of refugees. He made it his mission to raise awareness of the kidnapping and torture that was tearing apart families daily in Latin America and to encourage congregations to provide sanctuaries to refugees.

One of his best-known books, Sanctuary: The New Underground Railroad, was co-written with Renny Golden as a response to requests for more information about this new ecumenical group practicing the ancient law of sanctuary and protecting the displaced from authorities.

McConnell’s more recent work has focused on a multi-sensory exhibit called Eyes Wide Open: the Human Cost of War in Iraq, which is designed to create a public forum to enable the families of those who lost their lives in Iraq to speak openly and publicly about their experiences.

Part of the exhibit features replicated combat boots in large displays and in some cases the very footwear soldiers wore in Iraq and donated by the families left behind. Having debuted in Chicago’s Federal Plaza in January 2004, Eyes Wide Open now separated into smaller exhibits and shown in several states.

“Moms say this helps their kids understand war,” McConnell said. “It’s a visual depiction of the human cost of war that numbers cannot convey.”

The Distinguished Alumnus Award is presented annually to a graduate whose life, ministry and values embody aspects of McCormick’s mission in preparing women and men for the work of God’s justice, reconciliation, and peace in the world. A formal presentation is scheduled at a special alumni/ae luncheon at McCormick Days, October 26, 2010.