October 18, 2016, Houston, Texas – Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, received the Faithful Citizen Award for her ministry with formerly incarcerated women at Angela House in Houston.
The Faithful Citizen Award is given annually to “people who are led by the Holy Spirit and who manifest the Incarnate Love of God for this world in their lives and actions as Catholics.” The award was bestowed October 5 at the Houston Country Club by the Center for Faith and Culture at the University of St. Thomas, founded in 1947 by the Basilian Fathers.
Celebrating with Sister Maureen at the awards ceremony were Sister Kathleen Schanz, OP, recently on the Congregation’s General Council; Sister Maureen’s brother and nephew from California; and members of the Angela House Board. About 300 people attended the award ceremony.
The women currently residing at Angela House made their presence known by creating cards featuring information about Angela House, their own art work, and quotes about their experience at Angela House. These were placed on the tables to deepen the guests’ understanding of the work of the agency.
Formerly in law enforcement, Sister Maureen founded Angela House in 2001 to provide a residential program to help formerly incarcerated women to take their place in society. Staff members and volunteers of Angela House provide a variety of services to help the women to make the transition: counseling, spiritual support, job training, help in finding work, and support in making healthy decisions.
Since it was founded, Angela House has ministered to 338 women, 76 percent of whom have remained out of the prison system and are “clean, sober, and contributing members of our society,” Sister Maureen explained in accepting the award.
“I was shocked, quite frankly,” at receiving the award, Sister Maureen said. “I was really humbled by it.” In her formal acceptance of the award, she gave credit to the “team of professionals and volunteers who work so hard to make a difference in the lives of the women we serve.”
In an interview, Sister Maureen noted, “Our women have made poor choices, but the challenge is to help them get beyond the poor choices and make a good life. We live in a culture that has a hard time forgiving people.” As a result, she said, many of the women who finish their sentence in prison are “saddled with a 25-year conviction” that gets in the way of their finding a job. “It’s a never-ending cycle of injustice and total lack of regard for people.”
Among the highlights of her year, Sister Maureen said, are the graduate lunches that occur four times each year, when an Angela House graduate returns to speak to the current residents. “It’s a delight to … see these women be so proud of themselves and so willing to tell their story.”
Read a related article on the website of the Center for Faith and Culture.
Feature photo: Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, accepts the Faithful Citizen Award, to the applause of Father Donald Nesti, CSSp. Photo by Gary Fountain, Courtesy of the Center for Faith and Culture