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SLU Hosts International Humanitarian Workers, Announces $1 Million Opus Prize Winner

Sister Catherine Mutindi (center) reacts to being named the 2019 Opus Prize winner while finalists Michael Fernandez-Frey (left) and Brother Charles Nuwagaba (right) applaud.  11/21/19
Andrea Smith | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Nov. 21 with information about the winner.

The winner of the $1 million Opus Prize was named Thursday evening at St. Louis University. 

The Opus Prize Foundation selected Sister Catherine Mutindi as this year’s winner for her work toward ending child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"I'm so grateful. Thank you is not enough, and yet that is the only word I can use,” Mutindi said.

Original story

St. Louis University sent students, faculty and staff across the globe to observe humanitarian workers and help determine the winner of a $1 million prize, which will be awarded Thursday evening.

The Opus Prize Foundation selected SLU as its 2019 Opus Prize partner, the Catholic university that vets finalists for the prize and hosts the annual award ceremony. One finalist will receive $1 million to further the work of their organization, and the other two will receive $100,000 each. 

SLU took on the responsibility of finding individuals or organizations that are transforming lives in their communities and are motivated by faith or religion. Over the last year, teams made up of SLU ambassadors and Opus Prize Foundation representatives visited the three finalists in Puerto Rico, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya.

SLU student Jordan Glassman spent about four days in the Congo with Sister Catherine Mutindi, who founded Bon Pasteur Kolwezi to end child labor in mines. Glassman’s team followed Mutindi to schools, farms, her parish and other sites where she works, he said.

“She’s teaching students so much more than French and math. She’s teaching them that they have rights and that they are human beings and that they deserve good things,” Glassman said.

Mutindi spoke at the finalists’ panel discussion Tuesday and said the recognition from the Opus Prize Foundation is unexpected and empowering.

“We didn’t expect to be recognized because we are living our lives and doing what we should be doing,” she said.

Mutindi’s prize money will go toward employing families in the Congo who have depended on work in the mines, creating “more dignified ways for people to earn their own” income, she said.

Finalist Michael Fernandez-Frey said the prize money will help provide a better life for his team members in Puerto Rico. Fernandez-Frey is the founder and director of Caras con Causa, or Faces with a Cause, which works to diminish poverty through education, community organization, and economic and ecological development.

“I feel great gratitude. I feel humbled as well and encouraged to continue doing the work that we’re doing, and so the donation is going to improve the work that we’re doing,” Fernandez-Frey said. “We’re constantly working at a month-to-month basis, and it’s going to help us feel some stability and consolation for our team and our community members.”


Finalist Brother Charles Nuwagaba oversees a school and vocational education program on the edge of the Kibera slum in Kenya through Bannakaroli Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga. The prize money would support his work to end poverty through teaching skills like motor vehicle maintenance and computer literacy. 

“These skills have made them successful,” Nuwagaba said. “They go back also and give other people skills, so it becomes like a chain of distribution that, “‘I help you, and you go help other people.’”

SLU ambassadors contributed to the reports that the Opus Prize board of directors used to select the winner. Officials will announce the winner during a public ceremony at 5 p.m. Thursday at SLU’s Center for Global Citizenship.

Listen: "St. Louis on the Air" host Sarah Fenske's talks with St. Louis University students ahead of the Opus Prize awards.

Follow Andrea Smith on Twitter: @andr3afaith

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