By Dwight Adams
Father Hardin's Healing Role
A pivotal community leader makes sure black men pay attention to prostate cancer
By Dwight Adams
Objects with a religious theme crowd the walls and corners of the Rev. Boniface Hardin’s modest home. But a portrait of Catholic saint Edith Stein comforting fellow prisoners at Auschwitz catches the eye. The Carmelite nun, who converted from Judaism and died in the Nazi concentration camp, is a fitting inspiration for a priest who has combined a nearly four-decade-long advocacy for the poor and forgotten with a gentle, healing spirit.
Healing was a key reason Hardin says he founded Martin University in a neglected neighborhood in Indianapolis in 1977. The mission of the only predominately black college in Indiana was to provide a “healing environment” for the poor, minorities and adult learners seeking a second chance, he says.
“I told the students at Martin, ‘Don’t Quit,’ ” the man they know as Father Hardin says. “The discipline I learned at the monastery taught me not to quit.”
Even though Hardin, 74, retired in December as president of Martin University, he hasn’t abandoned his educator’s role. He now speaks several times a month at local churches and community meetings about the successful treatment of his prostate cancer more than five years ago. And he always urges the men and women in attendance to get screened regularly for cancer.
“I talk to people all the time about the prostate,” he says. “That’s what I do. That’s just a part of my ministry.”
Joseph A. Slash, the president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Urban League, can attest to that, saying that Hardin’s example has helped convince him to get screened for prostate cancer. “Father speaks to me about getting tested every time he sees me,” Slash says with a laugh. “He asks everyone about it. That’s just his thing.”
Slash calls Hardin “an icon” for Indianapolis, especially because of his dedication to education. “I know a lot of people who have benefited from that school,” he says. “We can’t give [Hardin] enough credit. To give people an alternative opportunity to go back to school is so important.”
Growing up Catholic in Kentucky, Hardin made his way to St. Meinrad Archabbey, a community of Benedictine monks in Southern Indiana. He became one of the first blacks to work his way through St. Meinrad College and the St. Meinrad School of Theology, before becoming ordained as a priest in 1959. Schooled in more than a dozen languages—including Latin, Spanish, German and Italian—since entering the seminary at 13, Hardin became a student of linguistics. (Even today, he occasionally celebrates Mass in Norwegian for the local chapter of the Sons of Norway, and is teaching himself Arabic.)