Fordham Announces Opus Award Winners


Opus Award winners Sister Chipeta and Father Halligan are honored at Fordham’s Keating Hall on Thursday November 11. (Courtesy of Fordhampress)

Published: November 17, 2010

Two years of preparation came to fruition on Thursday, Nov. 11, when Fordham’s Keating Hall filled to capacity as the chosen venue for the annual Opus Prize, one of the world’s largest faith-based humanitarian awards for social innovation. Each year, the prize seeks to honor an “unsung hero,” an individual whose persistent mission work has demonstrated a strong sense of faith and entrepreneurship despite tremendous odds.

For the first time in the award’s seven-year history, the jury elected to name Rev. John Halligan, S.R., and Sister Beatrice Chipeta, R.S., co-recipients of the Prize. The two will divide the $1.1 million in award money made possible by the Opus Foundation between their charities, Father Halligan’s Working Boys Center in Ecuador and Sister Chipeta’s Lusubilo Orphan Care project in Malawi.

“We look at to what extent these people are instilling self worth in those they serve and how they are changing local culture and lives,” said Msgr. Joseph Quinn, vice president of Mission and Ministry and chairman of the committee that chose Chipeta and Halligan out of 22 international nominees. In this case “the jury was so struck by the persevering and saintly spirits of the two individuals” that they chose not to pick a definitive winner, Quinn said.

Orphaned at a young age, Sister Chipeta was inspired to found Lusubilo as a response to the enormous population of Malawi children who have lost their parents to AIDS, the leading cause of death among adults in the country. Found in 1997, Lusubilo has now expanded to 12 villages, where over 4,000 orphans receive a wide range of services like housing and schooling.

“This is the first time people have honored me, and the first time I have had a chance to celebrate,” Chipeta said upon accepting the award. “In reality I need to be humble enough to realize that I have not done much. I have traveled far because God has used me; it is he who cares.” She emphasized that while there “has been a change from how things were to how they are,” her work has only begun, as the AIDS epidemic continues to cripple Malawi.

Halligan began his 44 year journey with the Working Boys Center (WBC) uttering a phrase one might not expect from a man who is credited with saving the lives of thousands of Ecuadorian boys and their families. “I hate kids,” he said in 1964, upon being assigned to “provide lunch and spiritual inspiration” to the city of Quito’s “shoe-shine boys.” What began as a service for 12 of an ancient church, the WBC now estimates that over 60,000 boys and their families have graduated from the center.

Halligan is firm in emphasizing that the program’s goal is not simply to provide for the families, but to produce “productive and active members of the community.” This means training those at the center in a range of occupations from auto mechanics to beauty care. Evidently successful, 65 percent of WBC graduates report owning a home, a steep increase from the 21 percent who enter the program with one.

“This is a tremendous new strength, and we will use it well,” Halligan said upon accepting the award. “In the face of worldwide poverty, it is our mission to try and cure this evil.

Fordham became the seventh university selected to present the Opus prize, which is awarded to an individual of any faith, at a different Catholic college each year. The University was tasked with finding a list of qualified candidates, as well as assembling a jury panel, responsible for choosing a winner once the 22 nominees had been narrowed down to two. A few of this year’s panel members included NBC news correspondents Chris Matthews and Tom Brokaw, as well as Archbishop Celestino Migliore and National Book Award winner Alice Mcdermott.

Also Involved in the nomination process were Fordham students Matthew Cuff (FCRH ’12) and Nora Moran (FCRH ’11) who were chosen by the University to accompany the foundation to Ecuador and Malawi, as an opportunity to gain closer understanding of the two charities.

“What we’re doing here is playing Matthew 6 against Matthew 5,” said University president Rev. Joseph Mcshane, S.J., who honored the nominees with verse. “In Matthew 6 Jesus exhorts his heroes not to call attention to themselves, but rather to do good things… never seeking reward. However, the Opus Foundation and Fordham are turning back a page to Matthew 5, where Jesus says ‘you are the light of the world.’”

“That is what we’re about this evening,” Mcshane said, “We are taking an extraordinary woman and extraordinary man, who have lived their lives according to Matthew 6, and saying that these two are worthy of being held up to give light to us all.”