It’s not often that Regis University bestows an honorary degree for a life of outstanding service.
On Sunday, 1969 Central High School graduate Larry Radice returned to Colorado from his home in China to receive the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters award at the school’s spring commencement ceremonies in Denver.
“On rare occasions, the Regis University Board of Trustees authorizes the awarding of honorary degrees to individuals who have led lives of distinguished service and professional achievement,” said university spokesman Donny Veasey in an e-mail to the Free Press.
Grand Junction residents Damian and Alisa Radice, Radice’s brother and sister, also attended the ceremony.
Radice graduated from Regis in 1973 with a degree in chemistry and physics. He then joined the Peace Corps and went to Malaysia where he learned to speak Malay and taught science in the language.
After the Peace Corps, Radice found himself drawn toward the priesthood and ended up joining the Maryknolls Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America.
Radice was sent to Tanzania for two years of training in East Africa where there was a famine going on due to drought.
“I asked myself: ‘What’s the simplest thing I can do to help?’” Radice said.
Land deforestation was a major problem, and so Radice started projects to replant trees.
After becoming ordained as a Maryknoll priest in 1985, Radice returned to Africa where he stayed for several years despite continuous bouts of malaria. He said being called back to teach in the U.S. probably saved his life.
After a couple of years, Radice was reassigned to Thailand where a Bishop in the province of Surat Thani had requested a priest with experience in agriculture. Radice was asked to set up an agricultural extension office.
The trees of the region’s two main fruits — durian and rombutan — were dying.
As a trained scientist Radice observed and studied the problem and eventually determined that a fungal disease was attacking the roots, which was killing the trees.
“People used Roundup weed killer,” Radice said. “It killed the weeds effectively and their fields were neat looking. But what was happening, after using this over the years the soil had lost its organic matter.
“The soil is living, with insects, micro-organisms, fungus, animals — it’s all part of the flora of the soil. The bioflora of the soil was destroyed.”
Radice began a program of introducing organic matter into the soil to make it healthy again.
Farmers initially resisted change, but eventually accepted Radice’s finding after the university and agriculture shows on television came to the same conclusion regarding Roundup’s harmful effects on soil.
Radice left Thailand during his eighth year in the country, turning over the agricultural programs he started to the locals
Radice moved to Jilin Province in northeast China where he taught English as part of the Maryknoll China Service Project.
Radice loved his students, but not the extreme cold temperatures of the region, and so after four years, he moved south to Dali, an ancient city in southwest China, with a university and Chinese language program. Radice began studying Chinese.
In Dali, where Radice continues to live, he teaches English and trains Chinese catechists. In the time he’s been there, the number of catechists has grown from a “handful” to 40, he said.
“There was a big need the church wanted to address,” Radice said.
Many houses of worship, including Buddhist temples, mosques and Christian churches, were destroyed during China’s Cultural Revolution of the mid-’70s and ’80s.
“Religions were suppressed,” Radice said.
As a Maryknoll priest with observer status at the United Nations, Radice has worked for the past three years with the U.N. on the issue of climate change.
When he leaves Colorado on May 26, he’s headed to Germany where he will attend the UN Climate Change Conference.
“It’s quite interesting bringing together scientific, political leaders, business, citizens, to discuss the changing climate,” Radice said. “I am so impressed; these are the smartest people I have ever worked with — they’re young, in their 30s and 40s, and brilliant.
“One of their roles is to give information to politicians. Every country comes with its own interests first. Decisions are made by consensus on the most complex treaty ever attempted in the world.”
However, “I really feel progress has not been enough, or soon enough,” Radice said. “I have traveled all over the world and only the U.S. seems to be largely uninterested and uninformed,” on the issue of climate change.
Maryknoll priests often work on environmental issues because “nature was God’s first revelation to humankind, and the holiness of creation goes back to church roots,” Radice said.
Grand Junction resident and childhood friend Anne Sanders has visited Radice a few times, including a trip to Myanmar in October.
In the country formerly known as Burma, “we visited orphanages, refugee camps, AIDS patients,” Sanders said.
Radice began traveling to Myanmar to start various agricultural projects while he was living in Thailand.
“War was going on there for years and thousands of farmers had moved to the city because it was too dangerous to stay on their land,” Radice said. “Their children no longer knew how to farm. The war had disrupted the ag culture.”
As people started moving back to the land, Radice began teaching basic agricultural concepts such as composting — making fertilizer out of organic materials to create healthy soil.
Along with his siblings, Sanders also attended the spring commencement ceremonies at Regis when Radice was given the honorary doctorate degree May 5.
“So now we call him Father Doctor,” she said.
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