Jesuit Father Ben Urmston has stood up for just about every social justice cause in 46 years as a Catholic priest. And, in recognition of his efforts over the years, the NAACP of Cincinnati honored the Jesuit with its Fair and Courageous Award at its 56th annual Freedom Fund Dinner.
The award is one of the chapter’s highest honors and, as the name suggests, recognizes “public servants who perform fairly, impartially and courageously.”
“I do feel honored. The NAACP is a pioneering civil rights group,” Urmston said. “Sometimes we over-emphasize the individual and don’t recognize the contribution everyone makes to the common good. Even if they think they are only doing something insignificant, we’re all in this together.”
Urmston is a Cincinnati native who left for the service at age 17 and taught and worked briefly in Detroit before returning.
“We live in two Cincinnatis,” Urmston said. “One is in the basement. The other is on the top floor, and if it’s not on the top floor, it’s not in the basement.”
Urmston sees the differences between the two as a schism emblematic of issues around the country.
“It’s counter-productive,” said Urmston, professor emeritus of Peace and Justice at Xavier, where he founded programs such as the campus shantytown in solidarity with the homeless. “We need to learn compassionate listening with people we disagree with.”
Urmston is a World War II veteran who served in Patton’s Third Army, fighting in three major European battles – the Rhine, Ruhr and Bavaria – before serving a year in the Philippines.
“With God’s help, I was able to draw good from evil,” Urmston said. “Despite many years of repressed memories, instinctively I got my passion for peace and justice. I value freedom.”