Human rights lawyer named 2013 Teacher of Peace

Pax Christi USA honors Mary Meg McCarthy, director of the National Immigrant Justice Center 

Washington, D.C.— Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement, has recognized Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director of the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), as the 2013 recipient of the Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Award. Pax Christi USA first gave the award to Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, in 1978 and has since recognized some of the most significant U.S. Catholic activists for peace and justice of the past 4 decades, including actor Martin Sheen; poet and priest Daniel Berrigan, S.J.; and Dead Man Walking author Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J.

Mary-Meg-McCarthy“I am pleased that Mary Meg McCarthy is the recipient of the 2013 PCUSA Teacher of Peace Award,” stated Sr. Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN, Executive Director of Pax Christi USA. “She has a passion and a driving commitment to uphold the human rights of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in the United States and to journey with these individuals, who are often at the fringes of our society, to access justice. Mary Meg teaches peace and inspires the life-giving hope that justice and peace are indeed within our reach.”

Under McCarthy’s leadership, NIJC, one of the nation’s leading immigrant and human rights advocacy organizations, serves 10,000 non-citizens each year through an unparalleled network of more than 1,000 pro bono attorneys. Through its unique combination of direct service, impact litigation and advocacy, NIJC promotes due process protections before the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress and the Administration.

In 1998, aware of the impact that she could generate by dedicating her professional skills to human rights, McCarthy left a promising private bar career to direct what is now NIJC. Understanding the need to teach the legal community about often hidden injustices within the immigration system, she brought the compelling life stories of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to the private bar, creating and cultivating a network of more than 1,000 pro bono attorneys who provide legal consultations, representation, and strategic litigation services to thousands of clients of all races and nationalities each year.

“McCarthy is a pillar of support to the Sisters of Mercy in our ministry with immigrants in detention,” wrote Pat Murphy, RSM and JoAnn Persch, RSM, in supporting the nomination of McCarthy for the award. “When we described the heartbreaking deportation of a young mother, Mary Meg took our testimony to a hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. Because of NIJC, immigrant voices are heard and decision-makers are finally beginning to understand that systems, actions, and decisions that relentlessly separate and harm the people of God cannot be tolerated.”

Cathy Crosby, chair of the committee which considers nominations for the Teacher of Peace Award, pointed out that McCarthy’s commitment to peace with justice began during her student days at Notre Dame, where she co-founded the Center for Social Concerns, and was strengthened during her time in Chile helping to safeguard the rights of individuals living under the Pinochet dictatorship.

“McCarthy’s unceasing work for human rights continues to transform university students as well as the legal community and powerful decision-makers,” stated Crosby. “We are delighted to recognize her sustained work for peace and justice in this time of lingering racism, sexism and intolerance.”

“I am honored to be the recipient of this award,” stated McCarthy upon learning of the recognition. “It belongs to the immigrants and refugees whose courage is truly an inspiration to all of us as we work to build a more just and humane world. We are in a critical moment for immigration reform and now is the time to act to create a new system that respects human rights.”

The Teacher of Peace award will be presented at a special ceremony honoring McCarthy in Washington, D.C. in September 2013. For a full list of this year’s nominees, click here.

For more information or requests for interviews, please contact Johnny Zokovitch, Pax Christi USA’s Director of Communications, at 352-219-8419 or  

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