VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova University Special Assistant to the President and Dean Emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Rev. Kail C. Ellis, OSA, PhD, will be awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor at a ceremony Saturday, May 7, on Ellis Island. Sponsored by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO), the Ellis Island Medals of Honor are awarded annually to a group of distinguished American citizens who exemplify a life dedicated to community service. These are individuals who preserve and celebrate the history, traditions and values of their ancestry while exemplifying the values of the American way of life, and who are dedicated to creating a better world for us all.
Father Ellis will receive the medal along with R. James Woolsey, Jr., former Director of Central Intelligence; Padma Lakshmi, model, author and television host of the Emmy Award-winning show Top Chef; Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Dr. Chrysostomos L. Nikias, PhD, president of the University of Southern California; Hamed Faridi, PhD, Chief Science Officer for McCormick; and Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook who saved the lives of 15 of her young students. Past recipients of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor have included Villanova University President the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, six United States presidents, one foreign president, Nobel Prize winners, and leaders in industry, education, arts, sports and government. Click here for more information about the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
Father Ellis is the son of Lebanese immigrants, his father Toufic Kmeid Elias having arrived in the United States in 1914, shortly before the outbreak of World War I. During the war, Lebanon, then part of the Ottoman Empire, suffered from the Allied blockade and a famine killed more than 100,000 people, including Toufic’s parents and siblings.
Following his high school graduation, Father Ellis had the opportunity to travel to Lebanon to meet his remaining family and learn Arabic. Soon after his arrival, while staying with family in Beirut, Lebanon’s first civil war erupted—a conflict that piqued his interest in international affairs, writing and Middle Eastern history. His letters home about the conflict were printed as war dispatches in the local newspaper. Father Ellis has since made 25 trips to the Middle East, where he maintains many familial and collegial relationships.
Father Ellis returned to the U.S. to study political science and theology. He entered the Augustinian Order to study for the priesthood, a decision stemming from his desire to be part of a religious order that values both education and community life. Since being assigned to Villanova, Father Ellis has worked as both a professor and administrator, where he helped to conceive and implement the University’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies. The Center, for which Father Ellis served as founding director, promotes an awareness of Islam and its relationship with other monotheistic religions and of the Arab-Islamic world—a vision that remains crucial in today’s world. Through the Center, the College of Liberal Arts and Science added courses in Middle East history, Islamic philosophy and theology, Arab media and Arab politics.
During his time at Villanova, Father Ellis has spearheaded conferences that attract international scholars and published two collections of essays on the Vatican and Islam and on post-civil war Lebanon, among many other scholarly presentations and papers.
Father Ellis served as dean of Villanova’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for 25 years, before being appointed vice president for academic affairs (VPAA) at the University in 2010. During his tenure as VPAA, he assisted with the development of Villanova’s strategic plan for comprehensive internationalization and established both the Office of Research and Graduate Programs, and the College of Professional Studies, Villanova’s first new college in 50 years. Father Ellis has also served as a board member for three universities, including two in the Middle East.
About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit www.villanova.edu.