Jesuit Father John Halligan, founder of the Working Boys’ Center (WBC) in Quito, Ecuador, was co-recipient of this year’s Opus Prize, one of the largest humanitarian awards that is designed to provide a single infusion of resources to advance humanitarians’ work and bring greater visibility to their causes.
Fr. Halligan will split the $1.1 million award with Sr. Beatrice Chipeta, director of the Lusubilo Orphan Care Project in Malawi, Africa. They were named co-recipients of the million-dollar annual prize on November 11 in a ceremony at Fordham University.
Fr. Halligan, 80, began the WBC in 1964 in the attic of the centuries-old La Compania Church in the center of Quito, Ecuador. His aim was to provide lunch and spiritual inspiration to a few dozen “shoeshine boys” who worked in the streets to support their families.
Forty-six years later, the WBC operates out of three buildings spread throughout Quito and serves more than 2,000 members annually, including whole families. The center offers daycare, primary education, vocational training, special needs services and adult literacy programs to help families be self-sustaining.
WBC is run by a team of directors, some of whom are former shoeshine boys, and enlists approximately 200 employees and 1,000 volunteers annually. It has twice been named the best technical school in the nation for its classes in carpentry, metal crafts and other trades.
At the ceremony, Fr. Halligan thanked the Jesuits for always keeping the “door open for the lower classes” and said that helped shape the path of his own life. He also encouraged students to become volunteers.
“The young volunteers make all the difference in our work, and they return from a life-changing experience in the process,” he said.
In the video below, Halligan discusses the purpose of the Working Boys’ Center and how it has help shape the lives of the poor in Quito.