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International Student’s Faith Odyssey

Manojprabhakaran Thirupal in Portland, shortly after arriving in the United States from India.

Manojprabhakaran Thirupal in Portland, shortly after arriving in the United States from India.

SPOKANE, Wash. – After an odyssey from the slums of Chennai, India, Manojprabhakaran Thirupal is thriving in his second semester in Gonzaga University’s master of organizational leadership program. Filled with faith and hope, he aims to earn a doctorate and create a nonprofit organization to help oppressed people worldwide.

Thirupal, 23, who began his studies at Gonzaga in January, has come a long way – literally and figuratively – since 2013 when he was dealing with his father’s death and the assault of his sister at school that nearly claimed her life. He credits his faith and those who helped bring him to Gonzaga. In particular, he thanks Gonzaga senior Aaron Danowski.

As part of Gonzaga’s hosting of the Opus Prize for faith-based humanitarian work in 2014, Danowski traveled to India with a Gonzaga delegation to evaluate the work of Gollapalli Israel, who serves India’s most marginalized citizens, the Dalit people. At that time, Israel – who became an Opus Prize finalist – encouraged Thirupal to use education as a lever for success. Danowski met Thirupal and was inspired to help him achieve his dream of studying at Gonzaga.

Danowski helped arrange for scholarships, private donations and graduate assistantships to fund Thirupal’s educational journey. Janine Warrington, a senior, helped Thirupal make his way on campus in late 2015 while Danowski studied in Cameroon.

Thirupal remains profoundly grateful for the help he has received and intends to return the favor by helping others. After completing his master’s degree, he plans to earn a doctorate in leadership and policy development and start a nonprofit in India and the United States to create opportunities for oppressed people around the world to become leaders.

“My supporters created a path for me to train myself as a global leader. One day, I will contribute to educate oppressed people like me to come up in their life,” he said.

Thirupal recalls the prayer he said in 10th grade that transformed his life when his sister was gravely injured.

“I said, ‘God, if you give life to my sister, I will contribute myself to others. Ever since, I have gotten great grades. God is training me. It’s a lifelong process,” he recalled. His sister is doing better but remains physically impacted from the attack.

Thirupal has wasted no time engaging in the Gonzaga community – serving as vice president for the Intercultural Student Union and as a student ambassador for International Peace Day last month. In addition, he plays for the Spokane Cricket Club.

He has high praise for Gonzaga’s faculty and staff, particularly his advisor, Adrian Popa, chair of the MOL program, who urged him to apply for the C.S. Lewis Fellows Program on Science and Society held in Seattle in July, which he attended.

“He is my leader, and I am his follower,” Thirupal says of Popa.

Kem Gambrell, assistant professor in Gonzaga’s doctoral program in leadership studies, encouraged him to submit his paper “Exploring Leadership Attitudes of Supervisors in the Indian Textile Industries” to the Midwest Academy of Management Conference. The paper was accepted; he presented it this month at the conference in Fargo, North Dakota.

He thanks his many supporters, including Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church and its Pastor Father Tim Clancy, S.J., director of Gonzaga’s honors program, for also supporting a Dalit student pursuing a Ph.D. at Loyola College in Chennai, India.

“Gonzaga’s mission is to create men and women for others, and I want to help be a part of that,” Thirupal said. “I want to help improve the lives of oppressed people in the world. I am going to give it a big try with the help of Gonzaga.”

  1. TDanowski
    Posted October 21, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    GO MANOJ! Congrats on your accomplishments so far! Looking forward to all the future holds for you– and those you serve.

  2. FreshmanParent
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 8:47 am

    What an extraordinary example of a servant of God and an inspiration to others. May God bless you in all you do.