Every year at its Continental Congress, the Daughters of the American Revolution awards its Americanism Medal to a naturalized U.S. citizen who has shown extraordinary qualities of leadership, trustworthiness, service and patriotism. And for the five years that I have been invited to the event, this is the award presentation that chokes me up—without fail.
Last evening, during opening ceremonies of the 117th annual Congress, DAR awarded the 2008 medal to Rev. Luis León, a Cuban immigrant who is now pastor of St. John’s Episcopal in Washington, D.C., one of the country’s most prominent and historic churches. In 1961, the 12-year-old León came to the United States with his sister on one of the “Operation Peter Pan” flights. He arrived in Miami with $3 in cash and the promise of a foster home until his parents could join him. It has proved more than enough to propel him to a successful career and compassion-filled life.
Baptized into the Episcopal Church in Guantanamo, Cuba, he went on to serve as rector of Trinity Church in Delaware and St. Paul’s Church in New Jersey, specializing in building inner city parishes. León has been rector of St. John’s and the “President’s Priest” since 1994, offering the invocation at the second inauguration of President Bush.
In his remarks at last night’s event, León joked that this wasn’t his first encounter with the DAR. When at Berry Academy in Rome, Ga., he won the DAR Good Citizen award—well before he had become a citizen. The lump in the throat moment started when he talked about his affection for his adopted country—once an unknown place, but now a known and loved world.
Did you know? DAR members have long been noted for their devotion to new immigrants. In 1921, the National Society published the DAR Manual for Citizenship, which was distributed to American immigrants at Ellis Island and other ports of entry. To date, more than 10 million manuals have been distributed.
Hammock salutes its client, the DAR, for all its important and ongoing service to the country. Best wishes for a successful Congress.