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Opus Prize in 2014 to Inspire Region

Stained glass window in Gonzaga's University Chapel.

Gonzaga aims to inspire the campus and region with the remarkable faith-inspired work of the Opus Prize finalists. Photo by Austin Ilg.

Faith-based Humanitarian Leaders to Visit
Spokane for Opus Prize Awards in October 2014

SPOKANE, Wash. – Gonzaga University, chosen to host the 2014 Opus Prizeone of the world’s most prestigious faith-based humanitarian honors, will welcome prize finalists to campus next October for a series of events designed to inspire the campus and region.

The presentations and conversations Oct. 13-16 (2014) with the Opus Prize finalists will include open forums, classroom discussions and a community awards ceremony on October 16 at Martin Woldson Theatre at The Fox that will highlight the power of the finalists’ transformative work. Gonzaga expects the finalists’ narratives of ‘faith that does justice’ will propel the campus community and residents of the Inland Northwest toward greater social justice work worldwide.

Gonzaga was selected by the Opus Prize Foundation to host the 2014 Opus Prize Foundation award ceremony and process. Among the world’s major honors for faith-based humanitarian initiatives, the annual prize carries a $1 million award and two $100,000 runner-up honors to individuals whose work has yet to be widely recognition.

The University has tapped its global networks to identify leading candidates for the prize, and screened nominees from which the finalists will be selected by an independent jury.  People of all faith traditions who are working to address the world’s most complex social problems, including issues such as poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease and injustice are considered.  A “jury” of 15 distinguished individuals from Spokane, the Northwest and the nation will narrow the list of nominees down to three, and the Foundation will select the primary award winner by late summer based, in part, on the judgment of GU students who will participate in vetting trips to the work sites of the finalists.

Additionally, as host, Gonzaga structures the award in a manner that best reflects its campus culture, and honors and integrates the prize recipients into learning activities and ongoing programs. This enables Gonzaga to deepen its curricula to incorporate challenging intellectual and practical work humanitarian leaders do in difficult places worldwide.

Sakena Yacoobi, founder and president of the Afghan Institute of Learning, received the 2013 Opus Prize in November in ceremonies at Georgetown University. AIL runs 52 centers in Afghanistan that provide literacy programs, higher education, arts and culture, health care and income-generating activities. Devoted to transforming the minds and hearts of people through education in the belief they will choose peace, Yacoobi inspires people throughout the Middle East and beyond.

The 2013 Opus Prize finalists were Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association in Washington, D.C., and The Fahmina Institute, a nonprofit based in Cirebon, Indonesia.

Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh said he is hopeful that “our students, our alumni, our trustees and regents, and the members of the Spokane community will all join with us in celebrating the work of outstanding humanitarians like these latest Opus Prize winners when we welcome the 2014 finalists on our campus,” President McCulloh said. “We anticipate a rich mix of opportunities for learning from and with these individuals in ways that amplify our own global educational efforts in support of a better life for all.”

Previous Opus Prize winners’ heroics include establishing charities and institutions to provide Haiti’s poor with basic health care services and skills; creating literacy centers and meaningful work opportunities in India; introducing public health programs in Brazil; providing postsecondary education to refugees from Congo, Rwanda and Burundi; and making available primary care, post-rape counseling, and training in HIV/AIDS prevention in the Congo. The Prize money has allowed winners to replicate their successful programs and widen the impact of their organizations.

According to the Foundation: “Opus Prize winners embody the Foundation’s core values of entrepreneurship, transformational leadership, faith lived each day, service to others and respect for the dignity of the human person.”

Michael Herzog, professor of English and chief of staff to Gonzaga’s president, has assumed responsibility for the project.

“One cannot read about the extraordinary work being done by previous Prize winners, and not be moved by their commitment and impact,” he said.  “We expect finalists in 2014 to be equally inspiring.”

For more information, please contact Michael Herzog at (509) 313-6104 or via email.

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