Sr Tesa an Opus Prize Finalist!
From Gonzaga Press News
SPOKANE, Wash. – After searching the world for great faith-based humanitarians, Gonzaga University announces three finalists for the 2014 Opus Prize: Sister Tesa Fitzgerald of Hour Children, Queens, New York; Gollapalli Israel, of the Janodayam Social Education Centre in Chennai, India; and Rev. Joseph Maier, of the Mercy Centre Human Development Foundation in Bangkok.
The winner of the Opus Prize, sponsored by the Opus Prize Foundation, will be announced at an Oct. 16 ceremony in Spokane and will be awarded $1 million to further his or her work; two finalists will be awarded $100,000 each. Gonzaga will host all three finalists for a series of campus and public events Oct. 14-16.
“These individuals, and the organizations they lead, are among the most courageous in the world,” said Michael Herzog, chair of Gonzaga’s Opus Prize Steering Committee. “They are undaunted by tough, seemingly intractable social problems. They are entrepreneurial in their response. They embody the power of faith committed to justice. And they are inspirational role models for our students and our community. We can’t wait to welcome them to Spokane.”
The 15-month process to seek, nominate and review candidates has been distinguished by the intense involvement of Gonzaga students. “The Opus Prize Foundation intends for this philanthropic work to inspire college students, and it has provided an exceptional educational experience for all those involved,” Herzog said.
About the Opus Prize Foundation Award
The Opus Prize is given annually to recognize unsung heroes of any faith tradition, anywhere in the world, solving today’s most persistent social problems. This $1 million faith-based humanitarian award and two $100,000 awards are collectively one of the world’s largest faith-based, humanitarian awards for social innovation.
Opus Prize winners combine an entrepreneurial spirit with an abiding faith to combat seemingly intractable global issues like poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, and injustice. Opus Prize winners demonstrate that change is possible, empowering and inspiring all of us.
Origins and Values
The Opus Prize Foundation is a private and independent nonprofit foundation. Established in 1994 by the founding chairman of earlier Opus Companies, the Opus Prize Foundation is a self-sufficient foundation independent from The Opus Group®.
The Prize identifies exceptional unsung social innovators and highlights their unique entrepreneurial approaches, which gives power to the disenfranchised, opportunities to the poorest and inspires others to pursue lives of service.
Opus Prize recipients 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. Most significantly, Opus Prize winners exemplify the adage, “Give a person a fish; you have fed him for a day. Teach a person to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”
The Opus Prize Foundation selects universities as partners to organize and execute the Opus Prize selection process and award ceremony. Through these partnerships, students are challenged to think globally and inspired to live lives of service.
Sr Tesa a Finalist - Opus
Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald
Long Island City, New York
In 1985, Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald, a Sister of St. Joseph who was an educator and the curriculum coordinator for the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, received an S.O.S. from Sr. Elaine Roulet, a fellow Sister of St. Joseph who was ministering at Bedford Hills, a women’s prison which houses the only nursery for infants born to incarcerated women in New York state. Sr. Elaine was looking for nuns willing to become foster parents for these kids, and was delighted when Sr. Tesa and three other nuns accepted her invitation and turned St. Rita’s Convent in Long Island City into a home for six children with a goal of maintaining the bond between mothers in prison and their kids.
Sr. Tesa became well-versed in diaper changes, bath time, homework and all the rest. The Sisters renamed the convent “My Mother’s House,” which seemed a warm, easy name for the children to use. Within a year, Sr. Tesa left her job in formal education and joined the staff of Providence House, a ministry of the Josephine sisters to provide housing for ex-offenders and homeless women. She worked there for eight years, constantly visiting one of five women’s prisons and interviewing women who needed a place to live when they were released.
In 1995, she incorporated a new nonprofit, Hour Children, named to acknowledge the important hours that shape the life of a child with an incarcerated mother – the hour of their mother’s arrest, the hour of their visit, and the hour of her release. An empty convent building in Long Island City soon became Hour Children’s first house where mothers would come and reunify with their kids. Two months later, Hour Children opened a second house in Richmond Hills at St. Benedict Joseph Labre Convent. Today, the agency oversees three apartment buildings, three thrift stores, a day care center, an after-school program, a job training program, a group home for women with children, a food pantry, a mentoring program, and three more communal homes – one of which houses Sr. Tesa’s “family.” They also continue to work with women in prisons during their incarceration.
The agency’s efforts are framed by two philosophies: change takes time and love makes the difference. Sr. Tesa and her staff believe that change is a slow and evolutionary process, so their programs and services remain open to women and children for as long as they need and are making forward progress. Their approach is to provide loving and compassionate care to these fragile families and in many instances, they become the family these women never had. The effectiveness of their firm but loving approach is reflected in Hour Children’s recidivism rate of approximately 3%, which is far lower than the New York State reported rate of 39%. And of the hundreds of families and all of the children with whom Hour Children has worked, only one child has followed her mother into prison. The rest are living productive lives in their respective communities.
Sr. Tesa is universally loved and is an exceptionally bright business woman. She is unflappable, compassionate, fearless, and devoted both to the people she serves and her staff, many of whom were at one time incarcerated.
When she is “working” the streets of her community in Long Island City, she can tell you not only the name of every mother, infant and child she meets, but their life story as well. Like any effective leader, she has surrounded herself with capable and loyal people whom she empowers.
One of the realities of this difficult and demanding work, is the fact that not everyone in the program is a success story – some aren’t quite ready at a particular time to do the necessary work. That reality in no way deters Hour Children, and it won’t be long before a woman who has failed the first time receives a phone call from Sr. Tesa asking if she’s ready for a second chance.