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RANDOLPH -- Dr. Martin Williams and Carolyn Caveny were honored at the 23rd annual Bishop James Augustine Healy Award Dinner, held Nov. 19 at Lombardo's in Randolph, for their work on behalf of the black Catholic community of the Archdiocese of Boston.
In a message read aloud at the event, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley praised both honorees "exceptional witnesses to the spirit and work of the Year of Mercy."
"Each, in their own way, has indeed brought the presence of the Lord to people in need," he continued.
While he is now Chief of Surgery and Medical Staff President at Carney Hospital in Dorchester, Dr. Williams began his career by providing medical assistance to the needy.
For years, Dr. Williams worked in health centers throughout Dorchester and South Boston, providing care to the two poorest census tracts in Boston. Additionally, he worked for nine years on the Bridge Over Troubled Waters Van, where he offered mobile care to the needy.
At the Award Dinner, Dr. Williams was presented with the Healy Award, which is yearly awarded to individuals who have provided strong leadership and service to the black Catholic community in the archdiocese.
In his acceptance speech, he thanked his friends, his family, and those who have given him spiritual advice and guidance over the years.
"Receiving this award has caused me to reflect on what I have done... I like to think that I have simply imitated the examples of so many people I've been blessed to meet," he said.
"I was, and still am, surprised to receive the Bishop Healy Award, yet I know that I've tried to be present and available to others as I have witnessed others do," he added.
The Robert Ruffin Award, yearly given to an individual who has offered significant service and sacrifice to the black Catholic community, was presented to Caveny.
Having served in a number of capacities at the now closed St. Frances de Sales School in Roxbury, and later as a senior associate dean of academic advising at Emmanuel College in Boston, Caveny has educated generations of students.
In addition to her work in education, Caveny has also been involved in a number of social justice programs, including the Fully Alive Program at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute for Women in Framingham, the Urban Educators' Coalition of the Archdiocese of Boston, and the Anti-Racism Committee of the Sisters of Notre Dame and the Sisters of St. Joseph.
After accepting the award, Caveny spoke about the award's namesake, Robert Ruffin, a black Catholic from Boston who was one of the main supporters of the first Black Catholic Congress held in Washington, D.C. in 1889.
During that gathering, Caveny said, a resolution was drawn up expressing solidarity with Irish immigrants who, like the black community, often faced discrimination.
After she saw that resolution, Caveny began wonder "Why has the trajectory of the descendants of the Emerald Isle and those of the African continent been so different in these United States during these last 127 years since that first congress?"
It's a question, she suggested, that everyone in the room should embrace in the spirit of collective work and responsibility.
"This descendant of the Emerald Isle has been blessed by myriad descendants of the African continent during these last 45 years. Black lives have been my teachers, my mentors, and my friends. Black lives welcomed me, challenged and supported me, comforted me, taught me, listened to me, and loved me," said Caveny.
"Black lives transformed my life, and equally important, continue to inform my life. The compassion and generosity of black lives is ever-present, and for this blessing I am grateful," she concluded.
The evening's keynote speaker was Father Anthony Bozeman, pastor of St. Raymond and St. Leo Parish in New Orleans.
After pursuing his undergraduate studies at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, Father Bozeman joined the United States Military, spending 16 combined years in the Active and Air National Guard Reserve duty.
Yet, Father Bozeman felt a higher calling, so he entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia and was ordained a priest in 2000. Several years later, Father Bozeman made first vows with the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, and was placed as pastor in his current parishes.
Father Bozeman thanked the night's honorees for their work and for the mercy they have shown others, saying that they have been able to do extraordinary things because they believe "in an extraordinary God."
"They remind us by their selfless service that God continues to send servants to send us his mercy, to show us his peace, to show us his joy, to show us his love. And we can draw strength from that fact," he said.
In the aftermath of a fractious election, as well as the feelings of racial disparity in the country, Father Bozeman said, the awardees service, as well as the Healy Award Dinner itself, is a comfort.
"I'm so glad we can come together even in the midst of dark days, and I'm telling you we're in for some dark days, we who know who Jesus can still be excited. Because we know, as we celebrate Black Catholic History Month, our God did not bring us this far to abandon us. All we've got to do is stay faithful," said Father Bozeman.
"And as our Church in some pocket struggles with the idea of real Christian selfless servitude, we can hold us these two beautiful people. I'm glad to see in this Archdiocese of Boston you honor our Catholic values of universality and of outreach to those who are most in need," he continued.
We are built in the likeness of God, Father Bozeman said, and because of that, "We can do great things. We can do the extraordinary... We can reach out to help those who need to know who God is -- those physically poor, emotionally poor, and spiritually poor."
"This is our moment, this is our time. It is only by God's mercy that we can do this. As our country builds walls of division, fear, and hatred, we can praise to God, as we by God's mercy build bridges, hope, and another opportunity to share the Gospel," Father Bozeman said.
The evening came to a close with a benediction by Father Oscar Pratt, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Dorchester, and an anthem sung by the Archdiocese of Boston Black Catholic Choir.