University to serve as a partner with Opus Prize Foundation to award $1 million gift

University to serve as a partner with Opus Prize Foundation to award $1 million gift

The University of St. Thomas will serve as a partner with the Opus Prize Foundation to award a $1 million gift next year to an individual or organization whose faith-based, entrepreneurial leadership helps people in need to transform their lives.

The gift will be awarded in October 2009 by the foundation, culminating an 18-month joint effort with St. Thomas to identify a worthy recipient. Two other individuals or organizations will receive $100,000 each.

The Opus Group, a national real estate development company based in Minnetonka, established the foundation in 2004 to further the humanitarian efforts of the prize recipients and to inspire people to pursue service to others. While the foundation works in partnership with Catholic universities to make the award, the recipient may have roots in any faith. Previous partners have been the University of San Francisco (2004), Marquette University (2005), the University of Notre Dame (2006), Catholic University of America (2007) and Seattle University (this year).

“The University of St. Thomas is honored to be chosen by the foundation as a partner to award the Opus Prize next year,” said Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas. “We will be proud to host the winners on our campus, and I know they will be a real inspiration to our students, faculty, staff and the larger community.”

Selection criteria emphasize the need for social entrepreneurship, transformational leadership, a faith-filled life, service to others, enhancement of human dignity, unsung heroes and an ability to teach people how to fish (adhering to the adage, “Give a person a fish; you have fed him for a day. Teach a person to fish; you have fed him for a lifetime.”).

“From establishing an innovative public health program for the poor in Brazil to addressing the overwhelming poverty of farm workers in central Florida and tackling youth illiteracy in India, Opus Prize winners have dedicated their lives to help transform the lives of others,” the foundation says. (To read more about the Opus Prize and past winners, see

The 2009 Opus Prize recipient will be selected through a process administered by St. Thomas. Dr. Charles Keffer, former provost of the university, is chairing a committee that began its work last spring.

The committee has identified 18 “spotters” around the world to nominate candidates for the Opus Prize. These spotters work in educational, nonprofit, humanitarian and religious communities and are well equipped to identify and research nominees. The spotters will anonymously research potential candidates and will submit nominations to the on-campus committee.

The St. Thomas committee then will select 10 to 15 nominees for consideration by a second committee of 10 to 12 “jurors,” including Dease and community leaders. The jurors will submit four nominees (three finalists and one alternate) to the foundation’s board, and St. Thomas students will accompany foundation representatives on due-diligence visits with the finalists next spring and summer. The board will select the winners of the $1 million and two $100,000 prizes.

St. Thomas will host a private dinner for the finalists on Oct. 20, 2009, and an awards dinner the following evening. A campuswide Opus Prize Day also will be held on Oct. 21 for students, faculty and staff to highlight the congruence between the university’s mission and the faith-based humanitarian work done by the finalists.

St. Thomas will work closely with the foundation on the events and marketing and communications efforts associated with the prize. The foundation is covering all expenses for the project except for the time contributed by members of the oversight committee and a number of St. Thomas service and support staff members who will volunteer their time and expertise for the project.

By awarding the Opus Prize on college campuses, they receive “an unparalleled opportunity to inspire the next generation of faith-based social entrepreneurs,” said Amy Sunderland, executive director of the Opus Prize Foundation. “Participating universities are encouraged to creatively integrate the Opus Prize conferral into their curricula so that students have time to reflect upon and embrace the learning inspired by prize recipients.”

In addition to Keffer, members of the St. Thomas oversight committee are Angeline Barretta-Herman, Office of Academic Affairs; Father Jean-Pierre Bongila, School of Education; Barb Dunker, Administrative Affairs; Dr. Camille George, School of Engineering; Linda Halverson, Administrative Affairs; Doug Hennes, University Relations; Ron James, Center for Ethical Business Cultures; Deborah Knaust, International Student Services; Dr. Michael Naughton, Center for Catholic Studies; Sister Katarina Schuth, St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity; Virgil Wiebe, School of Law; and Rachel Wobschall, Alumni and Constituent Relations.