Seeing a Dream Come to Fruition: Thirty Years Ago, the Rev. Father Boniface Hardin Envisioned a Language School for African-Americans, but What He Founded Has Become So Much More

By Goodall, Hurley | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, June 28, 2007 | Go to article overview

Seeing a Dream Come to Fruition: Thirty Years Ago, the Rev. Father Boniface Hardin Envisioned a Language School for African-Americans, but What He Founded Has Become So Much More


Goodall, Hurley, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


INDIANAPOLIS

Hidden away in a nondescript complex in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Indianapolis, Martin University is so modest that students and faculty park their cars in a tiny dirt-and-gravel lot across the street.

This institution of higher learning--the only predominantly Black university in Indiana--has served Indianapolis' poor, minority and adult learners for 30 years.

Now, its founder and leader, the Rev. Father Boniface Hardin, is planning to step down. His final day as president will be Dec. 31, and he says he's counting on students and faculty to select a leader who will continue his mission.

"As Dr. King said, the charisma is in the group. And I tell my students, faculty and staff, 'You have to help the new president to know what the vision and the mission of Martin is'" says the 73-year-old Hardin. "We don't have a band. We don't have a football team. All we have is learning."

In addition to running the university, Hardin has received dozens of awards and honors for his work in the community. The playwright and poet has produced and co-hosted television and radio programs and is versed in 15 languages. Hardin also uses his resemblance to the legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass as a teaching tool.

His journey began in Louisville, Ky., where he was one of four children born into a deeply religious family. When he was a child, his Baptist mother converted to Catholicism. The rest of the family followed.

At 13, Hardin entered the Saint Meinrad Archabbey, a Catholic monastery in Indiana. There, he underwent a rigorous education in languages and theology, becoming a Benedictine monk in 1953. He was soon named assistant treasurer for the monastery, where he worked until enrolling at the University of Notre Dame's School of Commerce in 1962.

"It didn't satisfy me," Hardin says of his work in the monastery. "So I asked to go to a parish. I didn't know what God had planned for me, but that was part of God's will that I learned about balance sheets and bookkeeping. God knew what I was going to do. God knew I was going to be here."

As an ordained priest, Hardin was assigned to Holy Angels Church, a Black Catholic parish in Indianapolis. No longer living the secluded life of a monk, Hardin used his ministry to advocate for Black equality during the turbulent times of the civil rights movement.

"I upset people because priests aren't supposed to talk that stuff on Sunday morning," he says. "Dr. King was a rabble-rouser. We didn't want any of that."

While at Holy Angels, Hardin established the Martin Center to provide psychological therapy for low-income Blacks in the community. But he wasn't satisfied with the results. He says he felt that more could be done to further the goal of civil rights. He wanted to start a school, specifically one that would train Blacks in various languages.

"Of course, everyone thought I was crazy," he says.

Steve Glenn, now a dean at Martin, was one of those initial skeptics. Glenn says he has known Hardin all his life, and when Hardin came to his family's home in the 1970s with the idea, the college-aged Glenn didn't take it seriously.

"I just kind of laughed," he says. "You imagine a man walking up to you and saying he was going to start a school--I was incredulous."

The language school never caught on. …

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