President George W. Bush presented the Presidential Citizens Medal to Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson on Wednesday, honoring over 35 years of dedication in proclaiming the transformative message of Jesus Christ to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families.
The former top aide to President Richard Nixon was among the 23 individuals and one posthumously who were recognized with the second highest honor for a citizen during a private ceremony in the Oval Office.
Colson was the first member of the Nixon administration to go to prison for Watergate-related offenses. He was convicted of obstruction of justice in relation to the Watergate scandal that engulfed the Nixon administration.
After serving his sentence, Colson founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, which conducts Christian-based outreach to prisoners, ex-convicts, crime victims and their families.
"Through his strong faith and leadership, he has helped courageous men and women from around the world make successful transitions back into society," the White House said in the recipient citations. "The United States honors Chuck Colson for his good heart and his compassionate efforts to renew a spirit of purpose in the lives of countless individuals."
The award was created by President Richard Nixon in 1969 to recognize U.S. citizens “who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.” It is one of the highest honors the President can confer upon a civilian, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Colson, who became a born-again Christian during Watergate, credited the honor to God's grace.
"Whatever good I may have done is because God saw fit to reach into the depths of Watergate and convert a broken sinner," said Colson in a statement. "Everything that has been accomplished these past 35 years has been by God’s grace and sovereign design."
He thanked everyone involved with Prison Fellowship Ministries.
"I do not treat this medal as mine," he said. "It is, like in the military, a unit citation. The staff of Prison Fellowship, the thousands of volunteers and the hundreds of thousands of donors have made this possible. So while I am overwhelmed in gratitude to God, I am grateful to all those associated in this movement called Prison Fellowship."
Another recipient on Wednesday was John P. Foley, S.J., who serves as president of the Cristo Rey Network, an association of Catholic high schools that serve urban young people through an innovative work-study model.
"Father John Foley has successfully reached some of our Nation’s most vulnerable youth and instilled in them a love of learning. Through his spiritual leadership of a faith-based education system that partners with the community, he has provided opportunities for young people to achieve their dreams," according to the White House citation.
Approximately 100 people have been awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, including Hank Aaron, Muhammad Ali, Archibald Cox, Senator Bob Dole, Elizabeth Taylor and Jeana Yeager.