2010 Opus Prize
2010 Opus Prize Finalist
Since his ordination as a young Jesuit priest in the Bronx, New York, John Halligan’s singular focus has been on serving the poorest of the poor in Quito, Ecuador. He arrived shortly after ordination with the intent of ministering to the native Indians, and by his own account, experienced only moderate success. Undeterred, he began a program in 1964 in the attic of the Campania Church, providing lunch and inspiration to a small group of shoeshine boys who made their living on the streets of Quito. The program, which came to be known as the Working Boys Center (WBC), attracted 250 boys within a few weeks – all who came to Fr. John each day to be showered with love and discipline.
He soon recruited two Sisters of Charity, Sr. Miguel Conway and Sr. Cindy Sullivan, to help direct the program expansion. These three are the heart and soul of the WBC, and the poor whom they serve are their source of inspiration.
According to Fr. Halligan, "It didn’t take us long to realize that poverty is much more of a spiritual problem than an economic issue, and that we couldn’t make an impact in the lives of these young boys if we didn’t somehow work with their entire families." The program changed dramatically over time, evolving into a comprehensive approach to lift entire families up and out of poverty. Today, the Working Boys Center serves approximately 400 families at any one time (2,000 individuals) in two sites. Families are housed, fed, receive health and dental care, and have access to a variety of social services. In return, adults spend long days learning a skill in one of 11 vocational training programs, children attend school, and each family is required to save toward the purchase of a plot of land on which other WBC families help them build a home. Both adults and children join in prayer each day to celebrate their faith.
In 46 years, Fr. John and his core staff -- whose combined service at the WBC exceeds 250 years -- have helped more than 6,000 families develop marketable skills as carpenters, welders, auto mechanics, chefs, beauticians, seamstresses, etc. Nearly 100% of WBC graduates are placed in jobs, and many have started their own businesses. One thousand volunteers each year from the United States and Europe assist in the training and educational programs. The cost for the entire program averages only $2.50 per person per day.Fr. John believes it’s important to go about one’s work with a sense of humor and when asked what will happen when he passes away, he routinely replies, "I hope they bury me." His team approaches its work with great grace, clarity and commitment, and believes that if the work is to continue, God will somehow provide.
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