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Father Tom O'Connor Light of Christ Award

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Father Tom O'Connor Light of Christ Award


Encouraging the Next Generation of Servant Leaders
For ten years, St. Mary’s Catholic Church Fort Wayne, in cooperation with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, awarded each year the Father Tom O’Connor Light of Christ Award. The award was presented each year in March to an individual or group whose work reflected the strong values exemplified by Father O’Connor during his many years as a priest. Father O’Connor, who died March 17, 2004, at the age of 74, served as pastor of St. Mary’s Parish for 34 years, and is considered by many to be an icon of Catholic faith in action.
The award carried with it a monetary gift given in the name of the recipient to her or his designated project, school, faith community, or nonprofit organization. The Father Tom O’Connor Light of Christ Award was designed to encourage, in the words of Bishop Emeritus John M. D’Arcy, “the next generation of Father Toms.” Father Tom O’Connor Light of Christ Award candidacy was open to persons of all faith traditions.
Fr Tom Light of Christ Award winners 
  • 2007 Cliff Kindy, for his work in non-violence.
  • 2008 Sister Janet Gildea, for her efforts among diverse cultures.
  • 2009 William Critell for his dedication to education among the disadvantaged. 
  • 2010 University of St. Francis student Danielle Collins, for her leadership and volunteer work to promote justice for the disadvantaged.
  • 2011 Volunteer Wheelchair Ramp Builders, for their efforts to expand the horizons of persons with physical disabilities.
  • 2012 Leon Youngpeter, for his efforts with the Christmas Box Program and local high school students.
  • 2013 Paul Helmke, for his leadership in public policy and non-violence.
  • 2014 Betty Stein, for her work in Education.
  • 2015 Steve Corona, for his service to the Hispanic community and his service in the field of education and helping the poor.
  • 2016 Megan Ryan, for her work in with Sodilitas at Bishop Luers High School, and Teach on the Beach in Ghana.  Ms. Ryan also created a bee aviary at Southwest Conservation Club, the proceeds of which help to educate young people on the importance of these pollinators.




                Father Tom O’Connor was a native of Gary, Indiana and was ordained a priest in 1956. He was an associate at parishes in Fort Wayne and Elkhart before becoming pastor of St. Mary’s in Fort Wayne in 1970, where he served until his death on St. Patrick’s Day in 2004.

Father Tom was instrumental in the creation of the St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen that has operated non-stop since opening on January 22, 1975, the Matthew 25 Health and Dental Clinics, St. Mary’s Thanksgiving Day dinner for the community, and an annual Christmas box distribution that helps more than 1,000 families each year.  He was also part of the steering committee that created Vincent House/Vincent Village Transitional Housing and helped to develop the East Side, West Side program for central city children and families.

Father Tom was actively involved in ecumenical and interfaith activities, and was a strong advocate for peace and justice, both locally as well as in the wider community. He was a strong advocate for civil rights.

Father O’Connor was honored during his lifetime 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.