St. Catherine University announces Opus Prize finalists

| August 30, 2012 | 1 Comment

Sister Andrea Lee, president of St. Catherine University, announces the three finalists of the 2012 Opus Prize Aug. 28. A slide of Father Richard Frechette’s St. Luke Foundation for Haiti appears behind her. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Three nonprofit organizations just took a giant step forward toward a $1 million prize.

St. Catherine University announced Aug. 28 the three finalists for the annual Opus Prize — St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, Mano a Mano International Partners and Ateliê de Idéias. The winner will be announced at the November Opus Prize event.

“They are outstanding” Cathy Brennan, steering committee co-chair, said about the finalists. “When we first started out with 24 [nominees], I thought all of them were wonderful. I would have given money to any single one of them. Then as we really started looking at their criteria and what kinds of things they were doing, what kind of transformational work, we just started to narrow and it was very difficult.”

The Opus Prize Foundation partnered with the St. Paul women’s university this year to honor “unsung heroes” anywhere in the world who are “solving today’s most persistent social problems,” according to the foundation’s website.

One individual will be awarded $1 million and the two runners-up will each receive $100,000 from the foundation to further the work of their organizations.

Every year since 2004, the nonprofit foundation established by the Opus Corporation has selected Catholic universities, including St. Paul’s University of St. Thomas in 2009, to oversee the nomination process, send scouts across the globe and host an awards ceremony.

This year the awards ceremony will be Thursday, Nov. 8, at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium on the St. Paul campus.

Local connections

One of the three finalists has local ties. Mano a Mano was founded in 1994 by a Mendota Heights couple, Segundo and Joan Velasquez. Segundo, a native of Bolivia, started the organization with the idea of shipping medical supplies to his physician brother that otherwise would have been deposited in landfills.

Mano a Mano, with headquarters in Mendota Heights, has grown from a small Minnesota-based nonprofit with modest goals to being part of a large network of international development projects transforming lives and communities throughout rural Bolivia.

Through the assistance of Caterpillar, Mano a Mano has built 1,400 kilometers of roads connecting rural communities to cities and provided water throughout the lengthy dry season to remote communities by building 153 water ponds and four water reservoirs.

Also, through counterparts in Bolivia and support from the U.S., Mano a Mano has built 130 clinics, 45 schools, airlifted more than 1,400 critically injured or ill patients to lifesaving treatment, and regularly sends volunteers and donors from the U.S. to see their projects in action and assist in training.

Here in Minnesota, more than 200 volunteers regularly assist in collecting, sorting, packing and shipping donated supplies from individuals and Minnesota hospitals to 130 clinics throughout rural Bolivia.

Helping Haiti’s poor

The second finalist, St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, helps organize local leadership in impoverished communities in Haiti to build and manage medical clinics and schools, construct roads and build and manage water retention and irrigation projects.

The organization insists on active community participation in each project and holds each community accountable for the ongoing maintenance of the clinics, schools, hospitals and water projects it sponsors. These resources have benefited more than 700,000 people.

The founder of St. Luke is Father Richard Frechette, a Passionist priest who also is a physician. His organization grew out of his work with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos International, which helps orphaned children around the world.

Work in Brazil

Ateliê de Idéias, the third finalist, grew out of an informal collective of women workers organized in slums. Primarily serving Brazil, its director and president is Leonora Michelin Laboissieire Mol.

This organization has strengthened the lowest-income communities in this country through life skills development, financial literacy and empowerment and housing development. The organization also operates a bank that  serves residents who otherwise would not have access to traditional banks.

The steering committee co-chairs are looking forward to the November event in which the winner will be named.

“It’s a huge honor,” said Mary Ann Brenden, steering committee co-chair and associate professor of social work. “For me, what is so exciting is that there is such a beautiful interface between our mission . . . and this prize. I feel like when we are looking at the nominees and the finalists . . . they are incredible representations of who we are, what we are all about and why we are educating students about the world.”

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