Martin Gang Institute honors Neil Sandberg and Royale Vadakin for decades of Religious, Ethnic Dialogue

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Left to right: Roger Sullivan, Msgr. Royale Vadakin, Dr. Curtis Sandberg (son of Dr. Neil Sanberg) who received on his father’s behalf, and Richard Volpert.

The Martin Gang Institute for Intergroup Relations, a shared venture of the American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles (AJC Los Angeles) and LMU Extension, honored Dr. Neil C. Sandberg and Reverend Monsignor Royale M. Vadakin, pioneer leaders in promoting mutual understanding and dialogue between religious and ethnic communities in Southern California.

Dr. Sandberg served as Regional Director of AJC Los Angeles for nearly three decades and has been a leading practitioner of human relations for more than 50 years, lecturing and writing extensively in both Los Angeles and abroad on ethnic, cultural, and intergroup problems in a plural society.

“I am pleased to receive this award with Msgr. Vadakin, especially since we are celebrating the significance of Nostra Aetate,” said Dr. Sandberg. “This evening also underscores my life’s work for more than 60 years with AJC and more than 40 years with Loyola Marymount University. It has also offered me an opportunity to look back at my work as a teacher, writer, and lecturer in Europe, Middle East, and Asia.”

Dr. Sandberg founded and directed AJC’s Asia Pacific Institute, and is the longest serving director of the Martin Gang Institute for Intergroup Relations, serving from 1968 to 2008. He is also a former adjunct professor of sociology at LMU’s Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts. He is listed in the Who’s Who in American Religion, Personalities of America, World Jewry, and International Community Service.

“No one was ever more knowledgeable or more the consummate professional than Neil,” said Bruce Ramer, former AJC National President, former LMU Trustee, and one of the founders of the Martin Gang Institute. Ramer continued: “He was as he is trusted and respected by the Jewish Community, the Catholic Community and the General Community. And revered by the lay leadership with whom he worked closely and in the perfect “partnership.” Neil’s groundbreaking work in Japan and Korea and his invention of the Asia and Pacific Rim Institute are but examples. He is loved by all with whom he has come into contact around the world.”

“Having worked with Neil since the late 1960’s, I’m pleased to see him receive this well-deserved recognition, said Past AJC Los Angeles President,” Richard Volpert. “His work is a model for all of us in fostering positive inter-group and interreligious relations in multicultural Los Angeles.”

Msgr. Vadakin, a priest and Vicar General Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, has served as an ecumenical and interreligious leader in Los Angeles for over 45 years. Following the Watts Riots in 1965, Vadakin and leaders from several different faith traditions were called in to help ease the tension in the community. The initial meeting, at which he met Rabbi Alfred Wolf of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, was the inspiration for their joint work towards establishing the Interreligious Council of Southern California in 1970.

“The early interreligious outreaches which I experienced after Vatican II were truly change events,” said Vadakin. “The context of interreligious dialogue is always changing and in flux, yet, thecore principals are constant,” Vadakin explained. “The Martin Gang Institute, AJC and LMU are responding creatively to new challenges and new realities in interreligious dialogue, yet, always rooted in the core principles of authentic dialogue.”

Msgr. Vadakin was the first Archdiocesan Officer of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, serving from 1971 to 1999. During that time he established the Los Angeles Bilateral Dialogues, which paired Catholic representatives with counterparts from faith traditions in Los Angeles. The first of these dialogues, the Priest-Rabbi Committee, published their collective work in Journey to Discovery: A Resource Manual for Jewish-Christian Dialogue. He has received numerous awards for this work, including honorarydoctorates from LMU and Hebrew Union College. He is a Regent Emeritus of LMU.

“For the Martin Gang Institute, this ceremony marked an opportunity to remember the 60 years of collaboration between LMU and AJC on the Human Relations Course as we honor two outstanding individuals who contributed greatly to that history,” said Dr. Robert Hurteau, Interim Senior Director of LMU Extension and Director of the Center for Religion and Spirituality. Rabbi Mark Diamond, Regional Director of AJC LosAngeles echoed the mood of the evening: “This program celebrated the visionary work of the Martin Gang Institute and illustrated the special bonds of friendship and good will that are flourishing within Catholic-Jewish relations in Los Angeles.”

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