- Honorary Degree (1989)
- Doctor of Humane Letters
- Bloomington, Indiana
- Presenter: Thomas Ehrlich
- Bill Orwig Award (1977)
Father James P. Higgins represents the highest values of the priest and counselor. In his personal and professional commitment, he reflects a deeply felt ecumenical responsibility and service. He has contributed his time, effort, and concern in many areas of society: to children, students, the poor, the elderly, charitable and professional organizations, and the public service and health professions.
Father Higgins was born in Indianapolis and received the B.A. from St. Meinrad College in 1947. Following his ordination into the Roman Catholic priesthood at St. Meinrad Seminary in 1951, he served as chaplain at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Police Department, the Marion County Sheriff's Department, the St. Florian Fireman Club, and the St. Jude Police League, among other organizations. He also found time to continue his formal education, and received the M.S. in education administration and psychology from Butler University in 1958.
From 1951 to 1964, Father Higgins taught at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, and was also superintendent of the school beginning in 1956. He then served three years as principal of Chatard High School before moving to Bloomington in 1967 to found and direct the St. Paul Catholic Center of Indiana University. In 1983 he became pastor of St. Martin of Tours, Martinsville, Indiana.
In his work at Indiana University, Father Higgins's sensitivity, warmth, and humor brought strength, understanding, and comfort to individuals of all ages, races, and religions, and all walks of life in the University and Bloomington communities. He was an outstanding force in personalizing the large, complex environment of the Bloomington campus. His ability to work effectively with both campus and community leaders was an important factor in enhancing the ties between the University and the city. During those years he served also as unofficial chaplain to the Indiana University football and basketball teams, where his encouragement and wisdom helped student-athletes meet the demands of their college careers. His impact is enduring.
An outstanding public servant, Father Higgins has served in leadership positions in numerous organizations, including, among many others, Monroe County United Way, Bloomington Boys' Club, Midwest Education Foundation, Kiwanis, American Red Cross, Monroe County School Corporation and Morgan County Public Schools, the Governor's Youth Advisory Board, White House Conference on Youth, Indiana Youth Council, Mental Health Association Board, State Law Enforcement Training Board, and Criminal Justice Regional VI Board.
Those who have had the good fortune to know Father Higgins speak of him as the epitome of the best that a priest, counselor, adviser, administrator, and friend should be. He has touched, enriched, and strengthened the lives of many.