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Honorary Degree Citation - Richard J. O’Reilly, M.D

Friday, May 27, 2016
Richard J. O’Reilly, M.D '64
Doctor of Science

You have radically changed the way we understand the treatment of childhood blood cancers and transplantation. Your groundbreaking research has transformed the treatment of young cancer patients and brought international recognition to your vital work. You were the first to perform a successful bone marrow transplant involving an unrelated compatible donor. You also developed a new approach to successfully treat so-called “Bubble Babies,” infants born with severely compromised or nonexistent immune systems. You were the first to demonstrate an innovative approach that allows them to receive a curative transplant from a half-matched parent or sibling. Your clinical research in immunology and bone marrow transplantation has advanced the field worldwide, while improving survival rates and the quality of life for countless young patients.

For more than three decades you have focused your energy, efforts and expertise on the clinical, teaching and research missions of pediatric bone marrow transplantation and immunology. You have worked tirelessly to improve access to the safety and efficacy of stem cell transplantation and other cellular therapies for children, teens and young adults. Your trailblazing techniques, now in practice around the globe, have restored hope, health and the opportunity to lead normal lives to children.

Chair of the department of pediatrics at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City since 1986, you hold the Claire L. Tow Chair in Pediatric Oncology Research. You lead a research team and clinical trials in the Richard O’Reilly Lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering and hold an appointment as professor of immunology and pediatrics at the Weill Cornell University School of Medical Sciences. On every front, you lead by example to inspire colleagues and tomorrow’s physicians to focus on patient-centered research and care. You stay at the leading edge of your field and challenge others to keep exploring new frontiers in their research. Even now, you are trying to develop better approaches to cancer treatment targeted to the tumors. Your tremendous contributions to medical science and patient care also embrace the very human aspects of the diagnosis and treatment of disease. You and your team see the nearly 700 young patients who come to you each year as individuals with personal narratives that matter.

Our students can take great inspiration from your distinguished career, distinctive approach and deep commitment to science, innovation and healing. As a Holy Cross man for and with others, you see your life’s work as a mission. In the spirit of St. Ignatius, you approach it with humility and fierce resolve. You embody the magis by always doing more for children, for families, and for medical science.

For your heroic efforts as a researcher and clinician, you have received wide recognition and many awards. They include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Consortium, the 2000 Boerhaave Medal from Leiden University in The Netherlands, a 2008 Holy Cross Sanctae Crucis Award and the 2011 Timothy Gee Humanity in Medicine Award from the Lauri Strauss Leukemia Foundation. In 2015 you were appointed Science Advisory Council Chair for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, and most recently you were named the inaugural recipient of The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Prize for your outstanding contributions to the field of pediatric oncology.

That all may know of our esteem for you and our pride in the transformative contributions you have made to the treatment and survival of children with blood cancers and compromised immune systems, the College of the Holy Cross confers upon you this day the degree, Doctor of Science, honoris causa.