The recipient of this year’s Archbishop Oscar Romero Award is Benedictine nun Sister Mary Lou Kownacki.
The Romero award is given out every year by the Mercyhurst University Religious Studies Department to an organization or individual who meets the criteria of “living the call of faith and justice in an extraordinary manner.”
Kownacki received the award for her many types of work. Some of the work she has done includes being a coordinator for a national Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi USA, and being the founder of the Erie Inner-City Neighborhood Art House.
She has also worked with Emmaus Ministries on the board of directors and has a special emphasis on supporting children while working to help restore local neighborhoods in the city of Erie.
The name of the award comes from Oscar Romero, an archbishop from San Salvador, El Salvador.
Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while in San Salvador celebrating Mass. Romero is mostly remembered for his commitment to help the lives of those less fortunate in El Salvador.
Mercyhurst religious studies Professor Thomas Forsthoefel, Ph.D., is one of the people responsible for selecting the recipient of the award every year.
Forsthoefel explained that the award aims to bring awareness of the values of the university, which is grounded in the gospel. It is a call to self-sacrifice, service, justice, and faith.
“Archbishop Oscar Romero is a profound modern example of someone incarnating these values in a remarkable manner, demonstrating his commitment to the very end,” said Forsthoefel. “He spoke the truth, he accepted the price for it, and did not make his choices based on personal safety or regard.”
Forsthoefel said winners of this award demonstrate the same intensity as Romero. The intensity is a lifelong commitment to the justice and dignity of the human person.
To display this quality in today’s society is certainly challenging. People tend to put a premium on power and wealth that can sometimes even challenge the Church.
“So, the Romero award can affirm the prophet in the Christian community, calling us to affirm our deepest, truest values and our best and noblest humanity,” Forsthoefel said.
If you would like to know more about the Romero award, Sister Mary Lou Kownacki, or about Archbishop Oscar Romero himself, please contact Forsthoefel at
firstname.lastname@example.org or at 814-824-2353.