A Catholic nun from Queens, New York, who runs a nonprofit devoted to helping incarcerated women and their children, won a $1 million humanitarian prize in downtown Spokane Thursday evening.
Sister Tesa Fitzgerald wiped a tear from her eye as she crossed the stage at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox to accept the Opus Prize for her organization, called Hour Children.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you a million times over,” she said. “I’m totally overwhelmed.”
She was joined by the two finalists for the prize, Gollapalli Israel, who works with residents in the slums of Chennai, India, and the Rev. Joe Maier, who works to educate children and house families in the largest slum in Bangkok.
Both Israel and Maier will receive $100,000 prizes for their organizations.
The Opus Prize is presented annually to faith-based humanitarians around the world working to address social issues. Each prize is awarded with the assistance of a Catholic university whose students are involved in the selection process. This year’s partner was Gonzaga University, which sent students to visit each of the finalists where they work.
There were 26 candidates for this year’s prize. Each organization considered must be entrepreneurial, sustainable and faith-based.
Each finalist received a standing ovation after they were introduced. Fitzgerald quickly waved people back into their seats before making a joke about wearing a Zags pin and knowing how to correctly pronounce Spokane.
“The heart of what we do is provide a home,” she said of her organization.
She called the women and children she works with her greatest teachers and said they have showed her “hope, forgiveness and the power of resurrection in the human soul.”
Israel focuses his work on the people of the Dalit caste, the lowest caste in India who are confined to the most menial and unsanitary jobs, including swimming in sewers as sanitation workers.
“We shall continue to strive until children from these families are no longer required to do what they are doing,” Israel said.
Maier talked of hearing God’s voice in the actions of others leading up to Thursday’s ceremony.
“God will speak often if you listen,” he said.