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Opus Prize Finalists Share Their Stories with Saint Louis University Community

by Maggie Rotermund on 11/19/2019
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“The opposite of challenge is inspiration.”

Sr. Catherine Mutindi, one of the finalists for the 2019 Opus Prize, said when the magnitude of the problems faced by her community in the Democratic Republic of Congo begins to weigh her down she remembers that from challenge comes inspiration.

Opus Prize Panel

The Opus Prize finalists participate in a panel discussion Tuesday. Pictured, from left, are student ambassador Suzy Kickham, Brother Charles Nuwagaba, Provincial Vicar of the Bannakaroli Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga, Sr. Catherine Mutindi, founder of Bon Pasteur, and Michael Fernandez-Frey, founder and director of Caras con Causa. Photo by Maggie Rotermund.

“When the community owns the process, we cannot be silenced,” she said during a panel discussion Tuesday, Nov. 19, at the Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business. Sr. Catherine is the founder of Bon Pasteur.

During the public panel, the three Opus Prize finalists shared the stories of their work and their communities. The nominees impressed upon the audience that community buy-in and support made their work possible.

Sr. Catherine spent 10 months in the Congo learning the community’s needs before Bon Pasteur began its work. Bon Pasteur has an extensive child protection program, which aims to strengthen child protection systems, policies, mechanisms and approaches for children in mining communities.

Michael Fernandez-Frey, founder and director of Caras con Causa in Puerto Rico, said his work started 10 years ago with one tutor in a private yard underneath a mango tree. Now Caras con Causa has opened its first charter school and has a sustainable mango reforestation project.

Brother Charles Nuwagaba, Provincial Vicar of the Bannakaroli Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga in Kenya, works to fulfill the mission set out by the founders of his order to help care for and educate the poor.

You can make the choice to live an extraordinary purpose-driven life.” 

Michael Fernandez-Frey, founder and director of Caras con Causa in Puerto Rico.

Fernandez-Frey urged the audience not to think of overwhelming global problems and get discouraged, but instead to assume responsibility in their own communities.

“The smallest actions contribute to making the world a better place,” he said. “Make injustice cease to exist where you live.”

He said he found his calling to help others during his time at George Washington University.

“You can make the choice to live an extraordinary purpose-driven life,” he said. “You don’t need to be a missionary, although we can never have enough missionaries, but you can also make change where you are. What extraordinary things can you do within your chosen profession?”

Fernandez-Frey said he asks why not me when others ask why me.

“I had a vocation to serve others,” he said. “I had no idea 10 years ago where it would lead me and I have no idea where it will take me 10 years from now.”

Sr. Catherine works to tackle child labor problems in the cobalt mining region of Kolwezi. Cobalt mined in Congo is used in rechargeable cell phone batteries.

She said she approaches each day asking what she can do to help with the problems in front of her. “To fight for the common good, you must believe in the power of what you can do now,” she said. “It gives you a direction.”

She reminded those assembled in the global economy we are all connected and all bear responsibility for raising awareness of issues and improving the world around us.

“We are all responsible for child labor – even if it is not a conscious choice we are making,” she said. “Consumerism and capitalism can make life harder for those most vulnerable in our societies.”

Br. Charles works in the Kibera slum outside Nairobi. The Bannakaroli Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga have schools that provide education to children, as well as several vocational and job training programs for teenagers and adults.

“There is value in our love for one another,” he said. “When our students come back after they have left us, they are different. They are taking what they learn and going back into their communities to share that.”

Education and material possessions have no value, Br. Charles said, if that learning and wealth aren’t used in service of one another. He urged those present to share a smile and work to share their gifts with others.

“Sharing that one smile, or working to change one life, has a ripple effect on the world,” he said.

The Opus Prize celebration continues with an ecumenical prayer service on Wednesday, Nov. 20, and the award ceremony Thursday, Nov. 20. 

The Opus Prize for innovative humanitarianism is awarded each year in partnership with a Catholic university. Past host universities include the University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University, The Catholic University of America, Marquette University, Gonzaga University and the University of Portland.

More on the 16th Annual Opus Prize


Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 13,500 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of nearly 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.