March 30, 2012

Benedictine Father Boniface Hardin founded Martin University

By Mary Ann Garber

Benedictine Father Boniface HardinBenedictine Father Boniface Hardin, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad who was the founder and president of Martin University in Indianapolis for 30 years, died on March 24 at a nursing home in Indianapolis after suffering a stroke. He was 78.

Benedictine Archabbot Justin DuVall praised Father Boniface for his commitment to the Gospel and described him as a “voice for justice” in his ministry to the poor.

“As a member of the monastic community of Saint Meinrad, Father Boniface was formed in his early years by the values of the Rule of St. Benedict,” the archabbot said. “His commitment to the Gospel, which guides the life of every monk, eventually led to his long years of work in the city of Indianapolis.

“Father Boniface was well known for his work among the disadvantaged and for his vision in establishing Martin University,” Archabbot Justin said. “These works were an expression of the deeply held values that had shaped his life as a monk and a priest. The people of the city of Indianapolis have lost a voice for justice, and the monks of Saint Meinrad have lost a brother whose love for Christ remains an example for all.”

A Mass for the Dead was celebrated at 10 a.m. on March 29 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, was the principal celebrant for the March 29 funeral liturgy at the cathedral. Father Kenneth Taylor, pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis and director of the archdiocesan Office of Multicultural Ministry, was the homilist.

The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at 10 a.m. (CDT) on March 30 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln at Saint Meinrad. Burial followed at the Saint Meinrad Archabbey Cemetery.

Archabbot Justin was the principal celebrant for the Mass of Christian Burial on March 30 at Saint Meinrad. Benedictine Father Cyprian Davis was the homilist.

Well-known as a civil rights activist, Father Boniface founded the inner city college named for the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and St. Martin de Porres to serve adult learners in low-income neighborhoods.

Under Father Boniface’s leadership, the then Martin Center College grew from a small, urban, coeducational school at 35th Street and North College Avenue to an accredited, nondenominational, liberal arts university that was relocated to the former St. Francis de Sales Church and School campus at 2171 N. Avondale Place in 1977.

Martin University’s current enrollment is more than 1,000 students, many of whom are minority, low-income adults.

Father Taylor remembered Father Boniface as a longtime friend and wonderful mentor.

“He was always looking for ways to help improve society as well as individuals,” Father Taylor said. “He put everything he did in the context of the Gospel. People’s lives are better and stronger because of him either through the education they got from his endeavors or through his sickle cell [disease awareness] initiatives.”

As the associate pastor of Holy Angels Parish from 1965-69, Father Boniface “helped lift up the community … and protect it from the things that he saw would endanger the health and well-being of the people,” Father Taylor said. “That focused mostly on the interstate being built [through inner city neighborhoods] at that time in the 1960s. He fought against that because he wanted the neighborhood to be as strong as it possibly could be.

“His whole impetus in starting the Martin Center was to improve the community, improve society and improve individuals,” Father Taylor said. “Martin Center started out as an effort to combat racism. He saw racism as something that divided the community and kept people down. Any ways that [prejudice] could be removed would help lift up people’s lives.”

St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister Jane Schilling helped Father Boniface start the Martin Center, which evolved into a college then university.

“Later in his life,” Father Taylor said, “after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he became an advocate for prostate cancer awareness.”

Father Boniface was “a brilliant man,” Father Taylor said. “Not everybody can start a college.”

James Dwight Randolph Hardin was born on Nov. 18, 1933, in Bardstown, Ky., and graduated from the former Saint Meinrad High School in 1951 and former Saint Meinrad College in 1956.

On July 31, 1954, he made his monastic profession with the Benedictine monks at Saint Meinrad.

He earned a master of divinity degree at Saint Meinrad School of Theology in 1959, and was ordained to the priesthood on May 11, 1959.

Father Boniface completed graduate studies at the University of Notre Dame in 1963.

From 1959-65, he served as assistant treasurer of Saint Meinrad Archabbey.

He ministered as assistant pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis from 1965 until 1969, when he founded the Martin Center.

Often told that he resembled the late abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Father Boniface created and performed an educational monologue about the former slave.

In 2002, he was diagnosed with cancer.

Also that year, Father Boniface was honored as a Living Legend by the Indiana Historical Society and International Citizen of the Year by the International Center of Indianapolis.

In 2004, he was recognized by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis with a Celebrating Catholic School Values Award.

Father Boniface retired as president of Martin University in 2007 after three decades of leadership there and was named president emeritus.

For many years, he was a member of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.

Surviving are three brothers, William Hardin of Louisville, Albert Hardin of Louisville and John Hardin of Bowling Green, Ky., as well as several nieces and nephews.

Memorial gifts may be sent to Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, 100 Hill Drive, St. Meinrad, IN 47577 or Martin University, 2171 N. Avondale Place, Indianapolis, IN 46218. †

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