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.