Statement issued Monday:
The Father Tom O’Connor Light of Christ Award committee will honor University of Saint Francis student Danielle Theresa Collins as the 2010 winner at a ceremony at noon, March 26, at St. Mary Catholic Church in downtown Fort Wayne. Collins will receive the award from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades and St. Mary Pastor Fr. Philip A. Widmann.
Created by St. Mary Catholic Church in cooperation with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the award honors individuals whose activities exemplify the type of servant leadership for which Fr. Tom O’Connor was known during his years as a priest in Fort Wayne. The award carries with it a monetary gift to the winner’s charity or project of choice.
Collins was singled out by the committee from a field of six finalists because of her work as a campus and community leader in service to those in need.
Following the example of Fr. O’Connor, the committee believes that Danielle’s efforts on behalf of the hungry and homeless are works of justice, and that her participation in the national Compassionate Friends organization for persons who have lost siblings and children helps them to achieve some measure of peace. Danielle serves on the Mission and Values Committee at the University of Saint Francis and is a member of the peer ministry team. She organized the 2008 Trick-or-Treat drive for canned goods to support USF Feeds the Fort and arranged for volunteers to help with the Saint Francis Habitat-for-Humanity home project in the fall of 2009.
Since arriving as a freshman at Saint Francis she has served on the Steering Committee for the Center for Service Engagement, a group that works to engage students, staff and faculty in opportunities for leadership and service to one another, society and the Church. Danielle also is a part of Indiana Campus Compact, a group that seeks to provide the leaders of tomorrow with the skills and values they need to be involved citizens, members of local communities and makers of change. According to the ICC website, "ICC supports the integration of service-learning and civic engagement into Indiana campuses statewide by working with Presidents and Chancellors, Provosts, Deans, faculty and staff members who ignite the passion for service in students."
Danielle is a life-long Roman Catholic whose faith both challenges her to lead efforts in the service of others and sustains her as she does so. She is a fine example of the next generation of servant leaders, or, in Bishop John D’Arcy’s words, "the next generation of Father Toms."
Previous Father Tom Award winners include Cliff Kindy, 2007, for his work in peace and justice; Sr. Janet Gildea, M.D., 2008, for her dedication to cultural diversity; and William Critell, 2009, for his efforts in education among disadvantaged students.
The Father Tom O’Connor Light of Christ Award was created in late 2006 to honor individuals whose faith and life reflect the ideals and attributes exemplified by Fr. O’Connor during his years as a priest and as pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church. Nominations are open to persons of all faiths.
nominees also must be firmly rooted in their own faith tradition.
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Fr. Tom, who died on March 17, 2004, at the age of 74, served as pastor of St. Mary Parish for 34 years. Many consider the humble priest to be a model of Catholic faith in action in both justice and charity. He was instrumental in the creation of the St. Mary Soup Kitchen, which has operated non-stop since opening on January 22, 1975, and serves nearly 1,500 bowls of soup to hungry people every day. He also is credited for beginning the Matthew 25 Health and Dental Clinic, St. Mary’s Thanksgiving Day dinner for the hungry, and the annual Christmas box distribution which assists more than 500 families yearly.
After the death of Virginia Schrantz, who operated Miss Virginia’s Mission House, Fr. Tom continued her assistance to the poor under the St. Mary Parish umbrella. Also, he was co-creator of the national award-winning "East Side, West Side" program for children and families from diverse racial, cultural and economic backgrounds. In addition, Fr. Tom was a member of the original steering committee for establishment in
Fort Wayne of Vincent House, offering transitional shelter and affordable housing for homeless families. He also worked to secure Catholic school scholarships for central city youngsters through the Bells of St. Mary’s project.
Fr. Tom was involved actively in ecumenical and interfaith activities, and was a strong advocate for peace, both locally as well as in the wider community. During his lifetime, he was honored with many awards and accolades, including the prestigious national Catholic Extension Society’s Lumen Christi Award, described by the Society’s president as the "Church’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize."
Because Fr. Tom always said his work was rooted in his Catholic faith, in the Scriptures and in his priestly vocation, "Light of Christ" Award