Boniface Hardin


Honorary Degree (2002)
Doctor of Humane Letters
Location: Indianapolis
Presenter: Myles Neil Brand


Reverend Boniface Hardin's ties to nineteenth-century African American leader Frederick Douglass are many and deep. On the surface, Hardin bears a remarkable resemblance to the former slave, whose work as an abolitionist earned him several government posts during and after Reconstruction. And Hardin has drawn upon that physical likeness and his thespian talents to share Douglass's life and thoughts through a number of theatrical productions that he has performed in and produced.

On a deeper level, Hardin's life work for the past two-plus decades has revolved around a fundamental Douglass principle: The most painful deprivation is a lack of education. As founder and president of the nonprofit, nondenominational Martin University in Indianapolis, Hardin has worked tirelessly to give hope through education to thousands of Indianapolis residents, with a special emphasis on adult learners, low-income people, members of minority groups, elderly people, and prison inmates.

"Martin University was founded in 1979 to provide higher education to those for whom poverty, prison, or other barriers would otherwise deprive them of hope for a better life," explains Gerald L. Bepko, chancellor of IUPUI. "Martin University embraces the ideals and bears the name both of Martin Luther King Jr. and of St. Martin de Porres, who was canonized in 1962 by Roman Catholic Pope John XXIII in recognition of his work with the poor and with those set apart from society or left behind because of race or social status."

Under Hardin's leadership, Martin University was founded in 1977 and incorporated in April 1979, opening with seven students in four buildings on Indianapolis's near north side. In 1987, the same year the college moved to its inner-city Avondale Campus, Martin received regional accreditation from the North Central Association Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.

Since 1981, Hardin has helped Martin University's graduating class grow from one to more than 60. Its multicultural curriculum serves about 1,200 students a year, offering bachelor of arts and sciences degrees in 26 majors in disciplines as varied as religious studies, business, behavioral sciences, and biology. In 1990, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools granted the college permission to offer master's degrees in community psychology and urban ministry studies.

In addition to the Avondale and College Avenue Campuses, Martin University in 1988 opened the Lady Elizabeth Campus at the Indiana Women's Prison, where baccalaureate courses and degrees are offered to inmates in a continuous program. Indiana Women's Prison Superintendent Dana Blank describes Hardin's commitment to the program: "When Martin University began offering classes at this institution, Father Hardin promised that if one hundred women needed a particular class, or if only one individual needed a class, to fulfill requirements for a degree, Martin University would provide the class. That promise has never been broken."

About 20 percent of Martin University graduates later obtain graduate degrees from other universities. Alumni include judges, lawyers, teachers, nurses, public administrators, and business owners. "Martin University has demonstrated, under Reverend Father Boniface Hardin, in its short life of twenty-four years, that low-income, minority, and adult-age persons, with the right kind of help, can succeed and be a positive influence in our society," says William J. Malone, chair of the Martin University Board of Trustees. Roughly 90 percent of Martin University graduates remain in the Indianapolis area, with about half working full time in community service and related professions. In addition to providing post-secondary educational opportunities, facilities for the performing arts, and a health education center, Martin University also offers community outreach programs, including AIDS education, substance abuse intervention, and G.E.D. preparation.

"The school's special focus on community service, involvement, and social change reflects Father Hardin's deep personal commitment to these issues," says Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson.

A Louisville native, Hardin received extensive education in Indiana, graduating from St. Meinrad High School in 1951, St. Meinrad College in 1955, and St. Meinrad School of Theology in 1959. He also graduated from the University of Notre Dame's School of Commerce in 1963. Hardin has several honorary degrees as well as numerous awards from community groups, health care organizations, religious organizations, and government agencies.

In addition to his educational and theatrical pursuits, Hardin also has written a book of poetic essays called Monkish Melodies and has three books in process: Picking Cotton on the Way to Church, Footsteps into the Future, and The Twelve Apostles. He also has worked on a research project on presidents of the United States of America and the Constitution; produced and co-hosted the television program Afro American on Channel 20 in Indianapolis; and served as editor of the quarterly Afro American Journal, published by Martin University.

Citing Hardin's lifelong commitment to the underprivileged and his efforts on their behalf, Edward L. Wheeler, president of the Christian Theological Seminary, calls him an outstanding community leader. "He has given voice to the voiceless and has been a steadfast articulator of the highest standards of justice and morality," Wheeler savs. "Reverend Hardin is the embodiment of integrity and commitment to the best of the human spirit."