Local peace activists nuke Rockhurst’s plans to honor a Honeywell executive

Chris Gentile was supposed to be honored April 9.

The Honeywell executive was set to receive the 2015 Fr. Nick Rashford, S.J., Award for Ethical Leadership from the Helzberg School of Management at Rockhurst University, the Catholic institution from which he received his master’s degree in business administration in 1999.

The ceremony, at the Bean Hangar space in the Roasterie’s Southwest Boulevard production plant, wasn’t widely promoted. A small story about the event and its honoree appeared on page A7 of the March 16, 2015, Kansas City Star.

That was enough to capture Georgia Walker’s attention. Walker herself had shown up in the Star’s pages last Christmas, in a story chronicling her midlife conversion to Catholicism and eventual ordination as a priest, in contravention of the faith’s edicts.

Walker, who faced excommunication over her priesthood, was troubled that Catholic university Rockhurst wanted to publicly praise someone whose professional life clashed with the religion’s values.

Gentile is president of Federal Manufacturing & Technologies in Kansas City. Honeywell is a conglomerate with a reach into seemingly countless industries. In Kansas City, one of those industries involves nuclear weapons.

Honeywell manages the Kansas City Plant, a manufacturing facility in southeast Kansas City that produces nuclear-weapon components. (Members of the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council, except Ed Ford, were delighted when a new version of the plant was proposed for the Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base, replacing the aging facility at the Bannister Federal Complex.)

Honeywell officials have long insisted that the Kansas City Plant makes only non-nuclear parts that eventually, somewhere else, get snapped onto weapons. But to peace activists like Walker and Ann Suellentrop, there’s no distinction between non-nuclear parts and the missiles for which they’re intended. Honeywell means nukes, which means Gentile is deeply enmeshed in a business frowned upon by Catholic doctrine.

Last December, Pope Francis wrote to the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, calling for an end to the bombs. “I am convinced that the desire for peace and fraternity planted deep in the human heart will bear fruit in concrete ways to ensure that nuclear weapons are banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home,” he wrote.

Walker, upon learning that Rockhurst planned to honor Gentile, wrote to its president, the Rev. Thomas Curran.

“It is difficult for me to understand why a Catholic institution of higher learning would be honoring an executive of a company like Honeywell,” Walker wrote on March 16. “Especially an award for ethics.”

Walker and others planned to protest the April 9 event.

But now no protest will be necessary.

On March 25, Rockhurst announced that Gentile had taken his name out of the running.

“I’ve asked Rockhurst University to withdraw my name from consideration for the Rashford-Lyon Award for Leadership and Ethics,” Gentile said in a written statement. “I am very proud to be an alumnus of such a great institution, and as proud about the work we do at Honeywell in the name of national security and investment in science, technology and math education programs.”

The university said it planned to give Gentile the award for his work with local youth in science education, but that “it also respects and values the consistent position of the Catholic Church, including Pope Francis’ December 2014 statement, on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, which relates to a portion of Honeywell’s business.”

Rockhurst has no plans to give the Rashford award to anyone else this year.

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