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Father John P. Smyth

CHICAGO, May 1, 2001 -- Father John P. Smyth, executive director of Maryville Academy, has been selected as a recipient of The 2000 Order of Lincoln Award for his success in providing abused, neglected and abandoned children with a loving, organized and opportunity-filled environment. The Order of Lincoln, presented by The Lincoln Academy, is the State’s highest award for individual achievement.

The award resembles the Badge of the Academy, which is based on that of the French Legion of Honor. The colors came from the State symbols: red for the State bird, the cardinal; violet for the State flower; and green for the State tree, the oak. The motto, “Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat” translates to “Let him who merits bear the palm”.

"I am confident that the Lincoln Academy was impressed by Father Smyth’s dedication and hard work to a very sensitive issue,” said DCFS Director Jess McDonald. “Maryville is an excellent example of what can happen when you have a positive, creative and sincere leader.”

Father Smyth has expanded and strengthened programs at Maryville, the largest residential facility in Illinois. For over thirty years the center’s programs haves addressed the physical, psychological and social needs of children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned.

Although Father Smyth was a NBA first round draft pick, he chose to enter the priesthood. Ordained in 1962, he was assigned to an aging institution, which became Maryville Academy. Originally founded as a training school in 1882 it was financially supported by the archdiocese of Chicago.

On the verge of closing, Father Smyth was appointed executive director in 1970. His goal was to turn the facility around and provide crucial services and programs to children in State care. He began renovating and remodeling the facility to suit the needs of this population.

“I commend Father Smyth for his vision to develop Maryville into a comprehensive system for Illinois children in care,” said Director McDonald. “Being able to oversee seventeen campuses that provide short- and long-term residential care, foster care, therapy, counseling, and medical treatment for more than 16,000 children annually is no easy task. His recognition is truly deserved.”

Recent expansions have included the addition of a career development center to ensure the success of departing residents. When residents leave the center at age 18, they are given the necessary skills to become productive contributors to society. Skills include job search, interviewing techniques, typing, housing assistance and an array of specialized programs geared toward developing marketable skills.

Father Smyth’s commitment to children is also evident in the creation of fully-funded scholarships for any Maryville resident or alumni accepted into a post high school program in Illinois or out of state (college, graduate or professional schools). The money is raised privately by Maryville and covers tuition, room, board, books and living expenses. A mentor, who provides emotional support, is also assigned to each of the more than 100 students in this scholarship program.

“A unique characteristic of Father Smyth is that he takes a personal interest in the life of each Maryville resident,” said Director McDonald. Father Smyth personally visits every student in the scholarship program, regardless if they attend school in Illinois or another state. How many directors or leaders can say they do that? This action truly shows dedication and a commitment to serving children.”

The Lincoln Academy of Illinois was created in 1964 to honor individuals whose contributions to the betterment of mankind have been accomplished in or on behalf of the State of Illinois, or, whose achievements have brought honor to the state because of their identity with it, whether by birth or residence, or by their dedication to those principles of democracy and humanity as exemplified by the great Illinoisan whose name it bears. The academy honors senior students at each of the four-year, degree granting institutions in Illinois for their excellence in curricular and extracurricular activities. It also honors those famous individuals who lived prior to the founding of the academy, but who made notable contributions to the State in their day.

The Order of Lincoln Award is presented to individuals who sought and achieved excellence in the arts and the performing arts, medicine and science, education, sports, religion, agriculture, social services, business, government and law, labor, and communications.

Other 2000 recipients include Orion Samuelson, Roger Ebert, Marian F. Pritzker, M. Cherif Bassiouni and Henry B. Betts, M.D. Upon receiving this recognition, Father Smyth joins past awardees, including: Scott Turow, Jim Edgar, Patrick Ryan, Gwendolyn Brooks, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Adlai E. Stevenson II, and a host of other individuals.

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