Romero Award to honor retired educator Mary Hoffman

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Mercyhurst University Department of Religious Studies will present its 2018 Archbishop Oscar Romero Award to retired special education teacher Mary Hoffman on Tuesday, March 20. Hoffman will speak after being honored for “her longstanding work educating and serving all of God’s children – in our community and abroad – particularly those with special needs.”

All are welcome to attend the presentation and lecture at 7 p.m. in the university’s Mercy Heritage Room.

Hoffman has titled her presentation “If You Could, You Should!” She said she plans to focus on “the beauty of the people in my life who opened my eyes, my heart, my mind and the doors that led me to such a fulfilling life.”

A 1974 Mercyhurst graduate, Hoffman retired after a 34-year career with the Millcreek Township School District, but has never stopped working with the students she loved. In the 1980s, she and colleague Mary Ellen Lieb recognized that there were few activities for their special education students once they finished high school. They stepped in to help fill that gap by offering evening classes.

Eventually they also developed the Inspire theatre program, which annually stages a musical production starring special needs individuals of all ages. Audiences pack the McDowell Intermediate Little Theatre to see the shows, which have included Grease, Fiddler on the Roof and Godspell. This year’s production – The Lion King – is set for Thursday, May 3.

Hoffman remains active throughout the Erie community. She serves on the board of Emmaus Ministries, where she volunteers regularly in the kitchen and in the office, and on the Erie County Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities Board. She spearheaded development of the Overflow Shelter for the homeless at St. John’s Parish and continues to help operate it for several weeks each winter.

Mercyhurst previously presented Hoffman with a Distinguished Alumni Award for her service to the community om 2014 and the Mercy Center for Women named her a “Woman Making History” in 2012. She and Lieb got RAVE Awards as outstanding adult volunteers in 2013.

This marks Mercyhurst’s 27th presentation of the Romero Award, named for the late archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, who is remembered for his uncompromising commitment to the poor and oppressed of El Salvador. He died from an assassin's bullet on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in San Salvador.

The Vatican announced earlier this month that Pope Francis has cleared the way for Romero to be made a saint, approving a miracle attributed to his intercession. The Pope declared Romero a martyr for the faith in 2015, and beatified him several months later. No date for the canonization has been set.

The first Romero Award, in 1991, honored peace activist Fr. Daniel Berrigan. Since then the award has been presented to a wide range of leaders in the peace and justice movement, both in the Erie community and on the national/international stage. Previous recipients have included Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking; Sister Marilyn Lacey, RSM, founder of Mercy Beyond Borders; Sister Mary Claire Kennedy, SSJ, an outspoken crusader against human trafficking; Sister Mary Miller, OSB, director of Erie’s Emmaus Ministries; and Erie optometrist Dr. Douglas Villela, who was honored in 2017 for his work with Vision for the Poor.