PROVIDENCE — Providence College honored its 2024 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Vision Awards recipients on Thursday, Feb. 1 on campus. Colby Brown ’24, co-founder of the Rhode Island chapter of First Generation Investors, Kerri Murray ’95, President of ShelterBox USA, and Father James Ruggieri ’90, pastor of St. Patrick Parish and St. Michael Parish both in Providence, were this year’s honorees.
“The work that all three have done and continue to do exemplify Dr. King’s beloved community and are a shining example for others to follow. We salute them and applaud their endeavors in faith, care and compassion,” said Providence College President Father Kenneth R. Sicard, O.P.
In 2018, and in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Providence College established the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Vision Award. This annual award honors individuals or groups from the campus community who exemplify his teachings and spirit.
The selection committee for this award considers nominees whose scholarship, community engagement, leadership, or service to others has advanced one or more of the principles which Rev. King embodied including social justice, equality, the promotion of faith and freedom of all people.
Brown is a management major and sociology minor from Tewksbury, Massachusetts, and co-founder of the Rhode Island chapter of First Generation Investors, a national non-profit empowering high school students to take ownership of their financial futures. Father Sicard told those gathered that he is a “wonderful student leader and role model for his fellow students on campus.”
Murray, who is based in Santa Barbara, California, was recognized for being a tireless advocate for victims of disasters and conflict. For the past eight years she has been president of the global humanitarian relief organization ShelterBox USA, a nonprofit that provides customized emergency shelter kits to displaced people. The boxes contain water purification kits, blankets, solar lanterns, tents and more. She has led ShelterBox through a significant expansion of its humanitarian efforts and personally worked in conflict and disaster zones, including Morocco and Ukraine. Under her leadership, ShelterBox has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
When introducing Father Ruggieri as an award recipient, and as the afternoon’s keynote speaker, Father Sicard described his brother priest as “a kind and merciful priest who walks among and beside those of your flock, many of them carrying burdens, including poverty and isolation.”
Father Ruggieri has been the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Providence since 2003 and was named pastor of St. Michael’s Parish in 2020. In 2009, with help from parishioners and supporters, he founded St. Patrick’s Academy, a Catholic preparatory high school for students unable to enroll in other Catholic schools for financial and other reasons. There is no set tuition; families pay what they can afford. The school enrolls 25 students per grade for a maximum of 100 students. Twenty percent are first-generation immigrants.
In offering his words to those gathered, Father Ruggieri said that the greatest thing we can do for the youth is to give them opportunities to “self-create… to be able to hear and identify the still small voice of God that speaks to them in the quiet of their hearts.
“We do that by decrying the injustice around us that suffocates people's freedom and destroys their ability to see their God-given goodness and dignity. I can attest firsthand that Catholic education is a great way to help our youth to understand their dignity as persons made in the image and likeness of God. Maybe we consider investing more and helping to make the noble ministry of Catholic education more accessible to our children and youth who have no access due to financial constraints.”
We can't become who we are made to be on our own, he added, noting the importance of working together as a loving community.
“As Dr. King reminds us, our lives are powerfully and importantly interconnected. That is the human experience.”