DENVER, Colorado — Regis University in Denver presented the Opus Prize, which includes a cash award of $1 million, to Mercy Sister Marilyn Lacey for her work in South Sudan and Haiti to assist displaced women and children.
Lacey’s organization, called “Mercy Beyond Borders,” provides educational and economic help as well as job training to over 1,400 women and girls every year. She’s worked with refugees for more than 25 years, including helping to resettle the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” meaning young boys displaced and separated from their families during the Sudanese war from 1983 to 2005, while working with Catholic Charities in San Jose, California.
The Opus Prize is an annual faith-based humanitarian award that is designed to recognize and celebrate those people bringing creative solutions to the world’s most difficult problems. The award partners with Catholic universities, although recipients can be of any faith.
This year it was the responsibility of Regis, the lone Jesuit-sponsored university in the Mountain time zone in the United States, to find the people it saw as most deserving to be considered and to select the finalists.
“The Opus Prize exemplifies what this university is about,” said Regis University President Jesuit Father John P. Fitzgibbons. “This is in our DNA.”
There were three other finalists who received awards of $100,000. They are Sister Stan Terese Mumuni and Drs. Jason Reinking and Noha Aboelata.
Mumuni works in Ghana taking care of children born with physical, mental or behavioral disabilities through the organization she founded, “Nazareth Home for God’s Children.” She started it in 2009 in order to help a very vulnerable population.
Those born in Ghana with severe disabilities are sometimes called “spirit children” and considered bad omens to be exiled or even killed. Mumuni takes them in instead and provides them with care and love.
Reinking and Aboelata work through “Roots Community Health Center” providing health care to the poor living on the streets of Oakland, California. Reinking also works with the Street Outreach Medical Program, also in Oakland.
Both are designing services to reach the homeless who don’t know what their options are. A big part of their work is building trust with a community that isn’t often able to trust those in authority.
Talking about the finalists, Fitzgibbons told them, “Your work truly restores hope and ignites the possibilities for those who live at the margins.” He told an audience in Denver Wednesday night, “we are inspired and moved by your example.”
Lacey becomes just the fourth American to win the Opus Prize since it was founded in 1994. Previous winners have come from Jamaica, Brazil, the Philippines, Kenya, Morocco, India, Mexico, Tanzania, Burundi and Nicaragua.