Opus Prize Winners: Huge Humanitarian Impact from Doing What Is Possible

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Maggy Barankitse says she has made many mistakes. “I hope they will accept me in Heaven,” she said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Thursday.

“If you’re not going, the rest of us are in trouble,” responded Gousha, Marquette Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy.

Gousha’s logic was simple: Who among us measures up to people such as Barankitse? Who can say we’ve done anything in the way of service to people that is even a blip compared to what she has done for tens of thousands of children in Burundi?

You can say the same when comparing our accomplishments to those of Father Richard Frechette, C.P., who launched the St. Luke Foundation that has provided day to day help and education to thousands of children in Haiti. Frechette was the guest at an “On the Issues” session Tuesday.

But who among us can’t learn from the examples of Barankitse and Frechette, who both said during their visits to the Law School that the starting points for what they have accomplished were really quite simple: seeing need, having faith, and putting their hearts and souls into doing what is good and what God wants people to do for others?

What should we learn? What can we do? That we should keep our minds and hearts open to all the people of the world, Frechette said, and do what we can to keep “the banquet of life” open to all. “When you do the right thing, the next right thing will happen,” he said. 

Barankitse and Frechette are each past winners of the Opus Prize, a $1 million award recognizing great accomplishments in faith-based social entrepreneurship. They and six other winners of the prestigious award were on the Marquette campus for Mission Week. All eight, as well as representatives of two other Opus winners, were recognized at the keynote event for the week Thursday evening at the Varsity Theatre.

Barankitse – known as Maggy to the people of Burundi – lived through horrific violence between members of Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups that left tens of thousands of people dead in recent decades, including a slaughter in her presence of dozens, including members of her family. But, she said, she refused to be broken by what she saw; rather, she became dedicated to a positive, optimistic approach to building lives of children in her African nation, regardless of their ethnic background. Maison Shalom, the organization she founded, now provides multiple services to about 30,000 children, with the goal of rebuilding healthy families. Its work includes a hospital complex serving mothers and children.

Frechette went to Haiti in 1987 to work in an orphanage. He was motivated to take on more and more services for children as he led the rise of the St. Luke Foundation. Its operations now include schools for 8,000 younger children and 1,200 high school age children. The foundation has also launched businesses employing Haitians and helps meet food needs of many. Its programs touch the lives of an estimated 150,000 Haitians each year.

Frechette described conditions in Haiti as terrible on almost every level, and, in general, not getting better. Yet, he pursues his work with love and confidence in the potential and future of the children who are involved. “I don’t see so much the bad part of it,” he said. “I see what’s possible.” Summarizing what St. Luke does, he said, “We raise children, that’s what we do.”

Two unpretentious people who have had so much impact in places on the globe where need can seem overwhelming, impact that started with determination to do what is right and good and helpful. “You go for one thing and you end doing a lot of other things,” Frechette said.

How do we make that resonate in our own lives? What more can we do to help meet the needs of people in our midst as well as those who seem remote from us? How can we use the examples of people such as Barankitse and Frechette to inspire and guide our own paths? If one goal of Mission Week is to put such questions in front of everyone involved at Marquette, consider the two sessions at the Law School successful parts of the campus-wide whole.

Video of the conversation with Father Frechette can be viewed by clicking here. Video of the session with Maggy Barankitse can be viewed by clicking here.

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