Honoring Catholic Relief Service Workers Who Died in Ethiopian Airlines Crash

Posted on March 18, 2019 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

Special Salute from Tom Dobbins, Catholic Charities’ John F. Hurley Honoree

A huge shout out to Catholic Charities Justice and Peace Coordinator, Tom Dobbins, for his well-deserved honor, the John F. Hurley Commendation awarded last week. Every two years, Fordham University selects an awardee for this honor from its plethora of distinguished alumni whose work supports the international Catholic Relief Services. Yet it is easy, knowing Tom and his impressive contribution to improving the lives of those in need both in New York and abroad, to understand why Fordham chose to honor him.  More about that later – but first, let’s hear what Tom had to say when he accepted the Hurley Commendation along with his special salute to Ethiopian Airlines crash victims:


By Tom Dobbins Jr.

Catholic Charities Justice and Peace Coordinator

I’d like to start out by first of all congratulating John Briggs on his receipt of the Swan-Strom Bare-Wald Award given out first at this ceremony for his extraordinary work leading Catholic Relief Services  in Guatemala. It is truly people like John and the other dedicated overseas staff of Catholic Relief Services that make the work of promoting Catholic Relief Services to Catholic parishioners and others here in the United States that much easier for all the good they have accomplished in the world.

I also want to take the opportunity to congratulate our two New York Seminarians, Matthew Breslin and Deacon Walter Genito, for embracing the opportunity to travel with Catholic Relief Services to Malawi and Ghana to witness first-hand the life giving/ life sustaining work that Catholic Relief Services does on behalf of the American Church all over the world – witnessing such incredible work I am sure will only enhance their ministry and deep appreciation of human solidarity and unity of the human family.

Like Coming Home

And on a personal note, I just want to say what an incredible honor it is to be receiving this commendation from my Alma Mater – and particularly on this Rose Hill Campus, for although this Bronx Campus is not the location where I spent the bulk of my time studying as a Fordham Law Student, this campus sits just about a half mile down Fordham Road from where my father and mother grew up on opposite sides of University Avenue -2316 and 2505 respectively – went to school, and met and married at Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Parish.  This campus is also the place where my Uncle Fr. Bob Dobbins, S.J. – lived many years of his life, and where we all gathered in Fordham’s University Chapel to say farewell to him when he went home to God, so for me, this truly is in a very real way a homecoming, and I am so grateful for that.

You know, when Henry Schwalbenberg first contacted me to tell me that they were considering awarding me the John F. Hurley Commendation, I was at first understandably humbled, and also astonished – primarily because I was present the last time the Hurley Commendation was awarded to my good friend Lois Harr – the Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Director of Social Action at my undergraduate Alma-Mater Manhattan College – who, as anyone who knows her will attest to, is a legend in these parts of the Bronx, so I know I have very big shoes to fill in receiving this recognition!

A Love of My Life

But I have to also say that I was also really, truly very, very excited to be receiving the Hurly Commendation, and the primary reason I was excited was because receiving this commendation gives me the opportunity to talk about one of the loves of my life, and that of course is the wonderful work and people of Catholic Relief Services.

The Real Meaning of “Neighbors”

You know, even before I came to Catholic Charities, I was always aware of the incredible work and witness of Catholic Relief Services – who in the name of the Catholic church in the United States really putting flesh on the bones of that critical principle of Catholic Social Teaching – Human Solidarity – reminding us that our duty to care for our neighbor in need does not stop at our front door, or our neighborhood, or our national borders, but extends to our brothers and sisters around the globe.

Catholic Relief Services is one of the organization that makes the Church’s talk of human solidarity credible.

Fighting Hunger, Thirst, even HIV/Aids

I had mentioned that Catholic Relief Services is one of the loves of my life, and while I have always loved the work of Catholic Relief Services, I can tell you exactly the time that I fell “in love” with Catholic Relief Services – and that was when, in September of 2010, I had the truly life-altering opportunity to travel to the countries of Ethiopia and Tanzania to witness the incredible work Catholic Relief Services does in those countries including: hunger relief and food security, water relief, sanitation, HIV/AIDS care and the building up of civil society.

Honoring CRS Workers Who Died in Ethiopian Airlines Crash

While receiving this commendation is a very joyous event for me, being given it at this this particular time – if only for my own personal experience having traveled with Catholic Relief Services to Ethiopia to witness the incredible work done in that country -  I feel compelled make mention of the tragic events of this past week when the Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed moments after take-off, taking with it the live of 157 people, including 4 Catholic Relief Services Staff Members:

  • Getnet Alemayahoo;
  • Mulusew Alemu;
  • Sintayahoo Aymeku
  • Sara Chalachew

– all Ethiopian nationals who were on their way to a training session in Nairobi, Kenya.

When I had traveled to Ethiopia in 2010 I had taken that same flight path from Addis to Nairobi that the fallen plane had, as many Africans do as it is a major East African travel hub – and my thoughts of course went to all of the extraordinary people I met on my trip – most of those I met on my trip were like those that lost their lives – local people, working for Catholic Relief Services in partnership with us in the American Church working to make their country a better place.

In accepting this Commendation I’d like to accept it in the name of these four esteemed Catholic Relief Services colleagues; Getnet, Mulusew, Sintayahoo and Sara.

I consider myself very blessed to have had the opportunity to witness the life giving, life sustaining work of Catholic Relief Services overseas, and looks forward to promoting the wonderful work of Catholic Relief Services back home here in New York for many years to come.

The Hurley commendation recalls the legacy of Fr. John F. Hurley, S.J. (1892-1967) by honoring a member of Fordham’s family who has actively promoted the work of Catholic Relief Services in the United States. Fr. Hurley was a 1914 alumnus of Fordham College and the founder of Catholic Relief Services in the Philippines.


More about Tom:  After graduating with honors with a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science and Peace Studies degree from Manhattan College, Tom received his Juris Doctor from Fordham University School of Law, where he also served as the 1989-1990 Stein Fellow for Law and Ethics.
For the past seventeen years, Tom has served as Justice and Peace Coordinator in the Department of Social and Community Development for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.  Here he works with clergy, religious, parishioners, and fellow Catholic Charities staff, educating them on Catholic social teachings and connecting them with opportunities in advocacy and service in such areas as social justice, education, public policy, and interreligious dialogue.  Tom is also producer for the JustLove Radio broadcast on the Catholic Channel 129 of Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
He sits on multiple boards and has received multiple honors for his work promoting liberty, solidarity and peace.  But the one he values most, he says, is when he met with Pope Francis with a group of other invited guests to discuss their experiences as part of the Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue on Suffering, Liberation and Fraternity.