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Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., talks to The Associated Press on April 19, 2023, at the Capitol in Washington. Jesuit Father Greg Boyle speaks at Jesuit-run Regis University in Denver Sept. 9, 2022. (CNS photo/Jacob Garcia via Regis University/ (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Gregory Boyle, S.J, a Jesuit priest who founded and runs Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention and rehabilitation program, and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the first and only woman ever elected to the speaker’s post, will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Joe Biden.

The two high-profile Catholics are among a diverse group of 19 individuals to be honored Friday by the Democratic president for making what the White House said are “exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.”

Father Boyle is the author of several books, including the New York Times bestseller Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Homeboy Industries is the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the United States.

In 2017, Father Boyle wrote in an article for America that the most important lesson he learned in 30 years of ministry with gang members and the formerly incarcerated in Los Angeles is that it is not his job to “save” anyone.

“I learned that saving lives is for the Coast Guard,” he wrote. “Me wanting a gang member to have a different life would never be the same as that gang member wanting to have one. I discovered that you do not go to the margins to rescue anyone. But if we go there, everyone finds rescue.”

Ms. Pelosi, who describes herself as a “devout Catholic,” served as speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011 and again from 2019 to 2022.

When she stepped down in 2022, Michael J. O’Loughlin, former national correspondent for America, wrote of the Catholic politician:

During her 20 years on the national political scene, Ms. Pelosi frequently invoked her Catholic faith, drawing praise from progressives who saw in her an example of championing the church’s social justice values and condemnation from conservatives who cited her liberal political views as evidence that she did take her faith seriously.

Another recipient, Katie Ledecky, also invoked her Catholic faith on her way to becoming the most decorated female swimmer in history. During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she told the Catholic Standard: “My Catholic faith is very important to me. It always has been and it always will be. It is part of who I am and I feel comfortable practicing my faith.”

The 10 men and nine women who will be awarded the Medal of Freedom hail from the worlds of politics, sports, entertainment, civil rights and LGBTQ+ advocacy, science and religion. Three medals will be awarded posthumously.

“These nineteen Americans built teams, coalitions, movements, organizations, and businesses that shaped America for the better,” the announcement from the White House said. “They are the pinnacle of leadership in their fields. They consistently demonstrated over their careers the power of community, hard work, and science.”

In addition to Ms. Pelosi, six politicians are among the recipients: former New York mayor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, climate activist and former Vice President Al Gore, Biden’s former climate envoy John Kerry and former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who died in 2013.

Clyburn’s endorsement of his longtime friend Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary is credited with helping Biden score a thundering win in South Carolina that helped power him to his party’s nomination and ultimately the White House. Bloomberg mounted a short-lived bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

In addition to representing North Carolina in the Senate, Dole, who is a Republican, also served as transportation secretary and labor secretary and was president of the American Red Cross. She currently leads a foundation supporting military caregivers.

Clarence B. Jones, 93, will be honored for his activism during the Civil Rights Movement. He’s a lawyer who provided legal counsel to Martin Luther King Jr. and helped write the opening paragraphs of the “I Have a Dream” speech that King delivered at the Lincoln Memorial at the 1963 March on Washington.

Medgar Evers will receive posthumous recognition for his work more than six decades ago fighting segregation in Mississippi in the 1960s as the NAACP’s first field officer in the state. He was 37 when he was fatally shot in the driveway of his home in June 1963.

Michelle Yeoh made history last year by becoming the first Asian woman to win an Academy Award for best actress for her performance in “ Everything, Everywhere All at Once.”

Jim Thorpe, who died in 1953, was the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States.

Judy Shepard co-founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation, named after her son, a gay 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who died in 1998 after he was beaten and tied to a fence.

The other medal recipients are:

— Phil Donahue, a journalist and former daytime TV talk-show host.

— Opal Lee, an activist who is best known for pushing to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Biden did so in 2021.

— Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space and the second female director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

— Jane Rigby, an astronomer who is chief scientist of the world’s most powerful telescope. She grew up in Delaware, Biden’s home state.

— Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers and the first Hispanic woman to lead a national union in the U.S. The union has endorsed Biden’s reelection bid and backed him in 2020.

In 2022, Biden presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 17 people, including gymnast Simone Biles, the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and gun-control advocate Gabby Giffords.

Biden also knows how it feels to receive the medal. As president, Barack Obama presented Biden, his vice president, with the medal a week before their administration ended in 2017.

Ashley McKinless contributed to this report.

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