Saint Louis University was honored to help select and host this year’s $1 million Opus Prize award given to given to Sister Catherine Mutindi, the founder of Bon Pasteur in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Two others, Michael Fernandez-Frey, founder and director of Caras con Causa and Brother Charles Nuwagaba, provincial vicar of the Bannakaroli Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga, received $100,000 for their nonprofits.
The humanitarian award is given for faith-based innovation to honor unsung heroes who are tackling the world’s most persistent social problems. The three finalists were on campus Nov. 17-21 visiting classrooms and attending events. On the last day, Sister Catherine was awarded the 16th annual Opus Prize at the Center for Global Citizenship at SLU.
The prize for innovative humanitarianism is awarded each year in partnership with a Catholic university. The university carries out the selection process and award ceremony. The partnership is intended to inspire a generation to become or support faith-based social entrepreneurs.
Good Shepherd Sister Catherine Mutindi is the founder of Bon Pasteur. She started the organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo after being invited by the local bishop to work with widows and orphans in the city of Kolwezi. Bon Pasteur addresses alternative livelihoods to mining; gender violence and the physical abuse of children; and child protection policies and schooling for children.
The area has rich soil and many minerals but many people can’t remember the last time they ate, Sister Catherine said.
She cited the Catholic values of the dignity of life and of social justice as the reason for her work. “We work with people on the margins of society, people of vulnerabilities,” she said. “We have to take risks and work together for the change that is necessary.”
Examples she cited included child labor, which is a problem that the employers deny, yet she said is rampant, and environmental destruction from mining.
Sister Catherine is a member of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (Good Shepherd Sisters), an international congregation of women religious. The order is known for its ministries protecting and empowering adolescent girls, women, children at risk and victims of human rights violations, including trafficking and sexual exploitation.
“Sister Catherine is working to address modern-day slavery, in children as young as 4 and 5, working in highly-toxic cobalt mines, to earn enough to feed their families that day,” said Don Neureuther, director of the Opus Prize Foundation.
What keeps her going, Sister Catherine said, is to see people come together to make change happen. She reminds herself and others that “Christ says, ‘I came so that they may have life and have it to the fullest.’”
It’s about believing in God and beleiving in the good of others, she said. “It means promoting dignity in situations that otherwise would be hopeless.”
Margaret Kirsch, a senior from Waconia, Minnesota, studying nutrition and dietetics, was a student ambassador who visited Kenya to evaluate the work of Brother Charles Newagaba and the Bannakaroli Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga. “It was inspiring to see the work they’re doing and having success with,” she said. “They’re so passionate.”
Some of the students invited her group of three visitors from St. Louis and Brother Charles to their homes. Kirsch was impressed with Brother Charles’ encouragement of the mothers of the students. “It’s the way he approaches everything,” with care and a nonjudgmental approach, she said.
A Catholic who is part of the Micah Program learning and service community at St. Louis University, Kirsch said the visit shows the universality of the Church and brings a comforting feeling knowing that she’s connected to others across the globe through her faith.
Connor Bradford, director of development at SLU who was a staff ambasador who visited and evaluated Michael Fernandez-Frey’s Cara con Causa program in Puerto Rico, said it’s an uphill battle for people to recover from 2018’s Hurricane Maria but “they’re committed to improving Puerto Rico” and their love for their land and neighbors stands out.
Visiting the main school for a regularly scheduled cookout was a highlight, he said. The children “were just smiling and loving it,” said Bradford, who attends St. Francis Xavier (College) Church and St. Raymond’s (Maronite) Church in St. Louis.
The trip tested his faith in some regards, he said, because he realized there’s more he can do to help others. “It also was inspiring and makes me want to connect closer to God,” he said.
Molly Schaller, faculty fellow for mission identity at SLU and a St. Francis Xavier (College Church) parishioner, coordinated the Opus Prize events. “With the sadness and difficulties around the world, these three finalists give me tremendous hope,” Schaller said. “There are things we can do to attend to the difficult challenges in our world.”
Spending time with the finalists, inspired by their faith, impacted everyone they touched,” Schaller said. “It takes our notion of being men and women for others to another level. There’s a call for creativity and a call for hope that they provide.”
Two Opus Prize finalists, as runners-up, will receive $100,000 for their organizations. They are Brother Charles Nuwagaba, provincial vicar of the Bannakaroli Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga, and Michael Fernandez-Frey, founder and director of Caras con Causa.
Brother Charles Newagaba
Suzy Kickham, a SLU philosophy major who attended Nerinx Hall High School in St. Louis, introduced the three finalists at a panel discussion at Saint Louis University Nov. 19. She also participated as a student ambassador and visited finalist Brother Charles Nuwagaba, provincial vicar of the Bannakaroli Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga who oversees a primary school and vocational education program in Kenya on the edge of the Kibera slum, the largest slum in Africa. The brothers also work in Tanzania and Uganda.
Kickham called him an unsung hero who is working to change the world.
Brother Charles said the outreach gives people faith and hope. “We have transformed thousands of children into responsible citizens,” he said.
Besides teaching skills in areas such as motor vehicle maintenance and computer technology, the Bannakaroli Brothers provide an education in values, charity and love, Brother Charles said. They promote family values, “love for each other and helping each other,” he said. “The skills we teach help them subsist. Then, they go out and help other people. It’s a very big impact on their way of living.”
Brother Charles offered the SLU community advice: “Go and make a difference in someone’s life. This is the challenge, helping people, and it starts within you.”
When asked why he works with people who are poor, he said: “When someone smiles, that makes my day.”
Fernandez-Frey founded and directs Caras con Causa (Faces with a Cause), a non-governmental organization serving economically poor families in communities bordering the Bay of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Caras con Causa is committed to children’s education, restoring the wetlands after the hurricane, and organizing communities to protect themselves against the destruction of their homes by the government.
Fernandez-Frey said he is driven by his faith. “Faith is what helps you wake up in the morning and be excited, gets you through the day and at night helps you reflect on how the day went,” he said.
It’s important to remember the life of Christ and how he proceded to love and forgive, giving the ultimate sacrifice even when humanity betrayed him, he said.
When Fernandez-Frey was a college student, he said, he expected to soon begin a career, go to Mass once a week, pray and make a donation to his parish and other causes. There’s nothing wrong with that, he said, but he took a different path with a vocation to serve others.
“You also can contribute to change. I’m not talking about abandoning everything (for a cause) but to do what you can to create a more just society,” he said.
It’s even possible to create an organization to represent your values, engaging and encouraging others to help, he added.
“It’s unsatisfactory for me to accept that when something’s wrong, that’s the way it’s going to be,” Fernandez-Frey said. Problems are complex, he said, but even a simple step helps. For example, he began countering environmental destruction by collecting seeds and growing trees in his mother’s yard. It’s now a large-scale operation.
The Opus Prize
The Opus Prize is an annual faith-based humanitarian award, recognizing leaders and organizations that develop creative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. The Prize is awarded in partnership with Catholic universities, providing new opportunities to inspire the next generation of servant leaders. From improving education in Afghanistan to supporting the families of incarcerated women in New York City, Opus Prize laureates are motivated by remarkable faith to create new opportunities for transformation.
Catholic university partners host the prize and conduct thorough process of evaluation. Through these partnerships, students are challenged to think globally and live lives of service.
Opus Prize finalists are:
• Individuals or organizations who champion faith-filled change
• Committed to successfully transforming lives
• Working anywhere in the world
• Motivated by any faith or religion
• Able to benefit significantly from the monetary award and recognition
“During a time when our communities are searching for signs of hope, we are reminded through the Opus Prize Award and the finalists this year that it is possible, especially motivated by faith, to join together to address the world’s problems,” said Jesuit Father Christopher Collins, special assistant to the president for mission and identity. “Students, faculty, staff and alumni of Saint Louis University regularly strive to be in service to humanity. Hosting this award draws our attention to the love we can all bring to the world and the call to be men and women for and with others.”
To view of video of Sister Catherine Mutindi’s work, visit https://bit.ly/2XFl9D8
For information, visit www.opusprize.org.