• Father Rick Frechette, left, was awarded the $1 million Opus Prize. Nominees Segundo Velasquez (center), and Leonora Micheiln Laboissiere Mol, each received $100,000.
  • Archbishop Emeritus Harry J. Flynn (right), with St. Catherine President Andrea Lee, IHM, conducted Thursday's Mass.
  • Associate Professor Mary Ann Brenden (left), co-chair of the Opus Prize steering committee, greets St. Luke Foundation's Raphael Louigene (right).
  • The Opus Prize experience allowed the nominees to interact with students, faculty and staff on both the Minneapolis, and St. Paul campuses.
  • Father Rick shares a laugh with Development Coordinator Emily Dobesh (left).
  • Father Rick Frechette (center) with staff and due-diligence team member Lahens Lee-St. Fleur M'05 and St. Luke Foundation staff member Rosaline Paul.
  • (left to right) Due-diligence team member Jennifer Donohue SP'15, Opus Prize nominees Segundo Velasquez and Father Rick Frechette, and Student Senate President Reneee Crepeau SP'13 toured the St. Paul campus.
  • The O'Shaughnessy was packed with students, faculty, alumnae and community members at the November 8 awards ceremony.

A Week to Remember

St. Catherine showcases ninth annual Opus Prize nominees, University's social justice mission

By Andy Steiner; Photography by Sher Stoneman

During the second week in November, St. Catherine University buzzed with excitement. The three finalists for the Opus Prize — an international faith-based humanitarian award that partners each year with a Catholic university — were coming to campus.

By the end of the week, at a gala awards ceremony in The O'Shaughnessy auditorium, one nominee would be awarded $1 million to benefit her or his organization; the other two would receive $100,000 each.

While the monetary prize captured media attention, it was the personal interactions with the three nominees — in classrooms, at Mass and at meals — that captured the hearts of the St. Catherine community. After hearing the nominees' stories, many students, especially, were inspired to one day put their own values to work in creating a more just world.

That is exactly what the Opus Prize Foundation, sponsor of the nine-year-old awards program, hoped would happen.

Seeds of Inspiration

Classroom visits began on a brisk fall day, but temperatures quickly warmed as the trio of Opus Prize nominees met with students and professors, explaining the sources of their inspiration, and the scope of their humanitarian work.

In Assistant Professor Lisa Rovik's orthoptics classroom, the discussion focused on developing an internship program in Haiti. Sarah Ferguson's social work students reflected on the economic power of microloans. Donna DeGracia and her physician assistant students discussed how transporting surplus medical supplies from the United States can aid healthcare in developing nations.

A group of associate degree students gathered in Minneapolis to query Frechette, Mol and Velasquez about their role models, challenges and dreams. The session — marked by both laughter and tears — felt intimate, with honest exchanges among the students and nominees.

"One of our primary goals is not just to reward unsung heroes but to give young people an opportunity to think about their commitment to service," says Don Neureuther, Opus Prize Foundation executive director. "That commitment at St. Kate's was crystal clear."

Students were deeply involved in many levels of the Opus Prize week. Beginning in September, Devon Arndt SP'14, Katherine Maniates SP'14 and Jennifer Rocha SP'14 led a student-engagement effort aimed at informing — and exciting — Katies about the event. The trio set up an Opus Prize Facebook page and held regular organizing sessions.

"The volunteers were really excited about meeting the nominees and hearing their stories," Arndt says. "It was a very positive experience. It helped make the event successful."

For nominee Mol, from Brazil, being able to tell so many receptive, enthusiastic audiences about her organization was inspiring. "For me, all of the nominees here are winners," she told a group of physical therapy students. "One of the greatest prizes we already have is sharing the knowledge of what we are doing."

READ MORE: Homecoming
The Opus Prize held a special significance for one St. Catherine employee and alumnus.

Where The Money Goes

Father Richard "Rick" Frechette
St. Luke Foundation for Haiti

In 1987, Father Rick Frechette founded Nos Petits Freres et Soeurs orphanage, on a mountaintop in Haiti. The facility was home to more than 400 orphaned and at-risk children of all ages. In the years since, his organization has grown organically to meet the needs of the Haitian people, constructing and running hospitals, maternity clinics, mobile disaster response units, a malnutrition center, as well as street-level social service programs. The organization also runs 29 schools that serve 8,000 students and small factories that manufacture cinderblocks and basic commodities including bread, pasta and peanut butter.

Leonora Micheiln Laboissière Mol
Ateliê de Idéias (ADI)

Based in the bustling port city of Vitôria, Brazil, Ateliê de Idéias (ADI) works to provide economic security and independence for the mostly female residents of the city's impoverished slums, or favelas. ADI began when Mol provided microloans from her own savings to a number of women; today, the organization has grown to support 17 community development banks, each one managed by local people. Their goal is to develop 20 more banks in the next five years.

Segundo Velasquez
Mano a Mano International Partners

What began as a one-time shipment of surplus medical supplies from the United States to help outfit a small, rural Bolivian hospital has grown into one of the premier NGOs in Bolivia, managing a diverse portfolio of programs serving rural villages throughout the country. In its 18 years of operation, Mano a Mano has shipped over 3 million pounds of medical supplies and equipment, airlifted 1,300 patients for emergency treatment, built 130 hospitals and clinics and 1,300 kilometers of roads, and provided access to water for drinking and irrigation through the construction of large-scale dams and reservoirs.