A former Fordham professor and his wife were celebrated at Rose Hill for their work in the 1960s on behalf of newly independent African nations.
Thomas Melady, a top American diplomat for more than four decades, was an adjunct professor at Fordham from 1966 to 1969. He and Margaret Melady assisted African leaders as their countries broke away from European colonial rule.
The couple paid homage to those leaders inTen Heroes of Africa: The Sweep of Independence in Black Africa (Orbis, 2011), which was a focal point of the event on Oct. 25 at the William D. Walsh Family Library.
Thomas Melady founded the Africa Service Institute in 1959 with John LaFarge, S.J. The institute helped African students attend college in the United States. It also taught African leaders how to obtain humanitarian aid, promote their nations internationally and negotiate Cold-War global politics.
“It was a fascinating time to be here in the United States, and we were very fortunate to have made the friendships that we did,” Margaret Melady said.
“We can say that these first leaders were very much people who had a strong educational basis in certain values,” she explained. “They said, ‘We want to fight for our freedoms; we want our countries to be independent. We are going to do it forcefully, but we would like to do it peacefully.'”
Leaders who led their countries in the way of peace also tended to be more open to incorporating Western ideas into their philosophies.
Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first president of Senegal, was one such leader. During trips to Paris, Senghor encountered many natives of the Caribbean who urged him to take a militant approach toward his country’s rulers.
“Senghor said, ‘No, we have an opportunity to seek reconciliation,'” Melady said.
“That’s when he told us about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit philosopher. De Chardin had ideas about how all people will approach each other, in all of our diversity, and come together in a wonderful reconciliation of civilizations,” she said. “Senghor began to take that on as his philosophy.”
De Chardin so influenced Senghor that he traveled to Fordham to give a speech about reconciliation and then visited the Jesuit’s grave in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Afterward, Senghor directed all photos and film of his visit be destroyed, as the experience was so personal and affecting for him.
Fordham established ties to the continent when the University—at Thomas Melady’s urging—asked African leaders to speak on campus whenever they visited the United Nations. In addition to Senghor, leaders from Botswana, Togo and Zambia journeyed to Rose Hill, where their names were embedded in the Terrace of Presidents.
“There were a lot of Fordham threads in our stories, and the role that they played, the role that Jesuits played, and the role that missionaries played in that early period of the 1960s,” Margaret Melady said.
Thomas Melady served as U.S. ambassador to Burundi and Uganda from 1969 to 1973 and to the Holy See from 1989 to 1993. He is now a senior diplomat in residence at the Institute of World Politics.
Margaret Melady became a university professor and served as president of the American University of Rome from 1997 to 2003. Her most current position is vice chairman of the Board of Trustees at Catholic Distance University.
The Office of the President and the Graduate Program in International Political Economy and Development (IPED) sponsored the event.