CHICAGO (CNS) — Jean Fedigan, founder of a nonprofit in the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona, that serves homeless and trafficked women, is the 2022-2023 recipient of Catholic Extension’s Lumen Christi Award.
“I cannot think of a higher honor than to be honored for my faith and my work for the Lord. I believe God is love and we work to let each Guest know they are loved. We work to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and serve all who come to our Center no matter the issue. It is my heart and my calling to serve the least among us,” Fedigan said in a statement.
The award, established in 1978, is the highest honor given by Catholic Extension and goes to people “who radiate and reveal the light of Christ present in the communities where they serve.”
Catholic Extension is a Chicago-based papal mission society that supports the work and ministries of U.S. mission dioceses.
Fedigan “continues a beautiful legacy of the Catholic people of Tucson, who have always understood that our faith comes alive when we go to the peripheries,” Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, said in announcing the award winner Sept. 22.
“It was no accident that Jean’s ministry to homeless women was born out of her parish, Our Mother of Sorrows, in Tucson, and was inspired by a Native American spiritual leader, Sister José Hobday,” he added.
The late Sister Hobday, a Franciscan, was a Seneca tribal elder and a popular author, storyteller and lecturer on prayer and spirituality. In her talks, she would always remind her listeners that Jesus “wants everyone at the banquet.”
Fedigan founded the nonprofit Sister José Women’s Center in 2009 while she was still serving as chief nursing officer at the University of Arizona Medical Center. She named her nonprofit after Sister Hobday, who died in April that year at age 80.
The center is dedicated to the care of homeless and trafficked women living on the streets of Tucson.
“More than just providing shelter, the center seeks to ensure that these women feel loved, respected and assured of their human dignity,” said a news release from Catholic Extension.
“Her (Fedigan’s) compassion is freely offered to all without judgment because she sees the face of Christ in all whom she meets,” it said. “Many guests have simply told her, ‘You made me feel human today.’”
Most of the women who come to Sister José Women’s Center suffer with mental illness, live on the streets and face nightly threats of violence. These women wake up and, as Fedigan said, ask themselves, “How do I survive today?”
She said she established the center to combat the “dehumanizing realities” that homeless women face each day.
“For me, this became an incredible journey of faith,” Fedigan added. “I get up in the morning, I go to my prayer space and I always say to God, ‘Where do you need me today?’”
The center began in a 750-square-foot house that could sleep 11 women at a time. It expanded to the 25,000-square-foot center it is today, which has allowed Fedigan and hundreds of volunteers to serve thousands of women.
As the Lumen Christi Award recipient, Fedigan was given a $25,000 grant to support her work among the poor and vulnerable, along with an additional $25,000 grant for the Tucson Diocese for nominating her.
This year, 40 dioceses submitted nominations for the award. Seven were chosen as award finalists and received $10,000 to support and enhance their ministry.
Since its founding, Catholic Extension’s mission has been to build up Catholic faith communities in underserved regions by raising funds to help these communities.
It helps construct churches in U.S. mission dioceses, many of which are rural and cover a large geographic area. Many have limited personnel and pastoral resources.
Catholic Extension has supported the Diocese of Tucson for nearly 120 years. Much its support has been and continues to be directed to supporting ministries to Native peoples and other vulnerable populations of the diocese.