In 2006 a previous US Ambassador to the Vatican and the then US Secretary of Veterans Affairs came to our Convention to give two presentations. They are both included below.
On October 16, 2003, Pope John Paul II named the Honorable James Nicholson a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Pius IX. The Grand Cross is the highest papal award given to a layman who is not a head of state.
Jim Nicholson was born during the Great Depression in 1938, the third child of seven, and raised on a tenant farm in Struble, Iowa. Like most poor American families, the Nicholsons knew that a good education would create opportunity and Jim worked hard to earn an appointment to the Unites States Military Academy. He notes his Army service as the defining experience in his life, imbuing him with a sense of duty, honor, and country.
After graduation from West Point, Nicholson served 8 years as an Army Ranger and paratrooper, then 22 years in the Army Reserve, retiring with the rank of full colonel. As a Ranger in Vietnam, he earned the Bronze Star Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry and two Air Medals.
Nicholson also holds a master’s degree in public policy from Columbia University in New York and a law degree from the University of Denver. He practiced law with a major Denver law firm and after two years of practice, became a partner, specializing in real estate, municipal finance, and zoning law.
Leaving the law in 1978, he founded Nicholson Enterprises, Inc., a developer of master planned residential communities. In 1987, he bought Renaissance Homes, which has become a nationally known, award-winning builder of high quality custom homes. Nicholson’s success in business was matched by his contributions to his community. He served three years as Chairman of the Volunteers of America in Colorado, which is the largest faith-based social service agency in the Rocky Mountain States. He chaired the Community Concerns Committee of the Denver Bar Association, he provided leadership to the Listen Foundation; and his service on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, and many other non-profit endeavors have earned him the stature of one of Colorado’s outstanding leaders.
In 1999, Nicholson was honored by induction as a Knight in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, one of the highest honors awarded to a Roman Catholic.
In 2000, Nicholson was given the prestigious Horatio Alger Award, recognizing his climb from humble beginnings to a position of success, which has enabled him to serve others in America now less fortunate. Among community honors, Irish America magazine has named him one of the top 100 Irish Americans in the country. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Public Service, Honoris Causa, by Regis University in Denver in May of 2001. On August 10, 2001 Nicholson was sworn-in as the sixth U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and presented his credentials to the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II on September 13, 2001.
Since assuming his post in Rome, Nicholson has organized an international conference on human trafficking, which attracted over 400 people from 35 different countries to talk about the human rights dimensions of 21st century slavery. On May 17, 2002 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the prestigious John Cabot University in Rome, Italy, and on January 7, 2003 he was presented with the coveted President’s Medal from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. On October 16, 2003, Pope John Paul II named him a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Pius IX. The Grand Cross is the highest papal award given to a layman who is not a head of state.
Nicholson has become a forceful advocate for human rights and American humanitarian concerns worldwide, with particular emphasis on trafficking in persons, religious freedom in Russian and China, as well as the acceptability of American genetically modified food to feed the 800 million starving and undernourished people in the world. He works closely with his bilateral partners in the Vatican on these issues, as well as those of war and peace and religious reconciliation.
In November 2002, Nicholson had his first book published, which is entitled “The United States and the Holy See — The Long Road.” It is the history of the diplomatic relationship between the United States of America, the temporal superpower, and the Vatican, the spiritual superpower, dating from 1788 to the present.