Sister Tesa's Opus

October 16, 2014

Award Advances Work Helping Incarcerated Women, Their Children
SPOKANE, Washington – Sister Teresa Fitzgerald, who directs the nonprofit organization Hour Children in Queens, New York, dedicated to transforming the lives of female offenders and their children, was honored Oct. 16 with the 2014 Opus Prize for faith-based humanitarian work. Sister Tesa, as she is known, said the $1 million award will provide desperately needed housing for the women and children Hour Children serves.

“We are really in need of additional living space where we can welcome women from prison for the opportunity to reunite with their children. That’s a real thing. The money would be used for the acquisition of an additional site,” she said.

 The two additional finalists for the Opus Prize, Gollapalli Israel, of the Janodayam Social Education Centre in Chennai, India, and Rev. Joseph Maier, of the Mercy Centre Human Development Foundation in Bangkok, received $100,000 each. The awards were announced at a ceremony and community reception at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox hosted by Gonzaga in partnership with the Opus Prize Foundation.

The Opus Prize Foundation selected Gonzaga to partner with it on this year’s award. The 22-month process to seek, nominate and review candidates has been distinguished by the intense involvement of Gonzaga students, according to Michael Herzog, chair of Gonzaga’s Opus Prize Steering Committee. “The Opus Prize Foundation intends for this philanthropic work to inspire college students, and it has provided an exceptional and broad educational experience for all those involved,” said Herzog.

Don Neureuther, executive director of the Opus Prize Foundation, said Sister Tesa’s work represents the best faith-based humanitarian work being done in the world today.

“Our penchant in the U.S. for incarcerating record numbers of men and women, particularly people of color, makes this one of the great social issues of our time. Sister Tesa and her staff have developed one of the most successful program models in the country because they respond with passion to the needs of each woman and child, and their personal commitment is grounded in a deep faith that is lived in service to others.”

Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh expressed his profound thanks to the Opus Prize Foundation for the opportunities the Opus Prize has afforded Gonzaga faculty, staff, and especially students to be intimately involved in learning from some of our world’s best social entrepreneurs about how to create social change.

“Over the last two years, we have enjoyed a very productive partnership with the Opus Prize Foundation, an organization that has helped Gonzaga to affirm and enrich our own basic Mission values. The opportunities our students have had to learn from outstanding humanitarians like Sr. Tesa, Gollapalli Israel, and Father Joe Maier are invaluable. The opportunities even a few of our students have had to help select the Opus Prize winner are extraordinary,” McCulloh said.

Sister Tesa, 68, who is celebrating her 50th year in the Sisters of St. Joseph, founded Hour Children in 1986 when she became a foster parent to eight children of incarcerated mothers at the convent where she lived. In 1992, when Hour Children became a 501 (c) (3) organization, she offered support services to other incarcerated mothers and their children. Before that, she was responsible for New York state curriculum oversight for Catholic elementary schools for the Diocese of Brooklyn, and was both a principal and teacher at Catholic elementary schools.

Hour Children is named for the important hours that shape the lives of children with mothers behind bars: the hour their mothers are arrested, the hour children visit their mothers in prison, and the hour of their release. Hour Children offers housing, education, transportation, day care, job training and employment assistance, and personal and addiction counseling in a compassionate environment. It builds hope among women who have had few reasons for hope.

SISTER TESA’S OPUS: Story Continued