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University will host Opus Prize for global social entrepreneurs

Pictured clockwise from the top are Opus Prize steering committee co-chairs: Cathy Brennan '70, LuLu Daly and Professor Mary Ann Brenden.
Pictured clockwise from the top are Opus Prize steering committee co-chairs: Cathy Brennan '70, LuLu Daly and Professor Mary Ann Brenden.
Photo by Rebecca Zenefski '10.

Quietly, and with little public fanfare, the Opus Prize Foundation gives away more than a million dollars each year to people who are changing the world — quietly, and with little public fanfare.

The annual $1 million award recognizes an individual or organization anywhere in the world whose faith-based, entrepreneurial leadership helps people in need transform their lives. Two prizes of $100,000 each also are awarded to leaders whose self-less work creates both hope and possibility.

Each year, the Opus Prize Foundation partners with a Catholic university willing to oversee the rigorous nomination and selection process required to find and vet humanitarian projects worldwide. This year, St. Catherine University was selected to undertake that work and will host the Opus Prize award ceremony and celebration on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012.

Founded in 2004, the Opus Prize has partnered with Notre Dame, Fordham, Catholic University, St. Thomas, Marquette and other prominent Catholic universities.

"The foundation encourages us to incorporate our values, our spirit and our culture into this," says Associate Professor of Social Work Mary Ann Brenden, one of three co-chairs of the Opus Prize steering committee appointed by St. Catherine President Andrea Lee, IHM. "There's a nice meshing of our University values and those of the Opus Prize."

Creating Social Change

Each year, the Opus Prize's university partner works to find international "spotters," experts who are embedded in the day-to-day work of combating large-scale injustice and oppression, crushing poverty and violence — and who are knowledgeable about the resulting need for personal empowerment and social change.

Last fall the committee co-chairs — in close consultation with Sister Andrea — chose spotters who then submitted multi-page nominations for potential Opus Prize winners. All told, the St. Kate's committee reviewed 24 nominations from Africa, Asia, South and North America, and the Caribbean. The winner and two finalists will be announced at the November Opus Prize event.

The values of the Opus Prize Foundation, excerpted below, drive the selection criteria for the award:

  1. Social Entrepreneurship: The Opus Prize seeks to recognize faith-based social entrepreneurs who go beyond immediate problems to fundamentally change individuals, families and communities.
  2. Transformational Leadership: A successful social entrepreneur motivates others to lead transformational changes in communities and in society.
  3. Teaching to Fish: The Opus Prize recognizes individuals and organizations that go beyond direct services, who instead address the root causes of social problems.
  4. Faith That Is Lived Each Day. The judgments we make, the values we hold, our daily conduct and our life's work all emanate from a religious faith that is at the heart of the Opus Prize recipient's entrepreneurial efforts.
  5. Service to Others. The measure of a person's faith is evidenced by his or her commitment to justice and compassionate service to others, especially those who are poor or vulnerable.
  6. Unsung Heroes. The Opus Prize identifies leaders without broad recognition and financial support for their cause (yet with sufficient administrative capacity to manage a sizeable grant).
  7. Dignity of the Human Person. Each person possesses a basic dignity, and human life must be preserved from conception through natural death. The recipient will consistently strive to enhance and preserve human life and human dignity.

"This is exposing me to so many people in the community and worldwide whom I never would have met," says Opus Prize committee co-chair LuLu Daly, who, along with her husband, orthopedic surgeon Peter Daly, runs Holy Family Surgery Center in Honduras.

Sister Andrea and the co-chairs anticipate strong student involvement in the project. "The Opus Prize Foundation chose to use Catholic universities because of our social teaching and engaging students in the wider world," explains co-chair Cathy Brennan '70, an occupational therapy consultant. "That's certainly why they chose St. Kate's."

To learn more, read the story in SCAN Magazine or visit

Feb. 20, 2012 by Amy Gage

See also: Catholic Identity, Leadership, Social Justice