Heartfelt and emotional. Those were two words I heard used to describe last night’s 2017 Christopher Awards ceremony which celebrated storytellers whose work affirmed the highest values of the human spirit and brought light and hope to our sometimes-dark world.
The emotion, heart, and even some tears stemmed largely from our special award winners Dr. Chuck Dietzen, who has committed his life to helping disabled children, and Patti Ann McDonald, who inspired her husband, NYPD Detective Steven McDonald, to fight for his life when he was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty in 1986. There’s more information about both special award winners below.
(Master of Cereomies Ernie Anastos with Patti Ann McDonald and Dr. Chuck Dietzen)
Of course, the event was also a party and a fun time was had by all who attended. Fox5’s Ernie Anastos, who served as Master of Ceremonies, did his usual job of bringing a hope-filled energy to the crowd. CBS2’s Tony Aiello served as one of our presenters again, bringing humor, gravitas, and poignancy to all his introductions. And our good friend Joan Bauer was kind enough to be another inspiring presenter, even though she was also winning a Christopher Award last evening. (She’s just too good to give her the night off.)
Below are some pictures from the event, along with presentations of all the awards and the accompanying descriptions. If you need a dose of hope in your life, seek out any of these winners and they’ll do the job.
(Award-winning author of “Operating on Faith” Matt Weber with his family)
(Award-winning co-screenwriter of “Hacksaw Ridge” Robert Schenkkan with his wife)
(Award-winning author of “The Hundred Story Home” Kathy Izard [center] with friends)
(Fox5’s Ernie Anastos and CBS2’s Tony Aiello)
(The Christophers Vice President and COO Mary Ellen Robinson with James Keller Award winner Dr. Chuck Dietzen)
(Blogger Tom Zampino, The Christophers’ Tony Rossi, and Aleteia’s Deacon Greg Kandra taking a selfie)
Books for Adults
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to Lisa Fenn’s editor at Harper Wave – Sarah Murphy
CARRY ON by Lisa Fenn. (Harper Wave/Harper Collins) – When ESPN producer Lisa Fenn heard about the friendship between a blind high school wrestler and his teammate who had lost his legs in a train accident, she knew it would make a good story. But as she learned about the poverty and need in the lives of Dartanyon Crockett and Leroy Sutton, she grew to admire their tenacity and love them like a mother. “Carry On” celebrates the coming together of this unlikely family and the challenges they faced along the way. It also reminds us that feeling valued and loved can make a tremendous difference in a young person’s life.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to author Kathy Izard)
THE HUNDRED STORY HOME by Kathy Izard. (Grace Press) – “Do good. Love well.” Kathy Izard learned those ideals from her family growing up, and she was living them out as a longtime volunteer at a Charlotte, North Carolina soup kitchen. Then, a formerly homeless man asked her why they do so much good during the day, but send the homeless back to the streets at night. This challenge gave Kathy a new sense of mission, which she documents in “The Hundred Story Home.” Today, she has helped create a supportive housing facility for over 120 homeless men and women – and she continues working to build even more.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to Ron Fournier’s editor, Donna Loffredo)
LOVE THAT BOY by Ron Fournier. (Harmony Books/Crown Publishing) – Journalist Ron Fournier often cringed at his son Tyler’s social awkwardness. But when Ron learned that Tyler had a high-functioning autism called Asperger Syndrome, he cringed at his own harsh judgment. “Love That Boy” explores the father-son bond that was strengthened as they took eight road trips together to indulge Tyler’s love of history, including personal meetings with former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The book also encourages parents to explore their own sometimes-damaging expectations for their children. In the end, Ron comes to a new realization, saying, “Tyler is not my idealized son. He is my ideal one.”
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to author Matt Weber)
OPERATING ON FAITH by Matt Weber. (Loyola Press) – Matt Weber had lived a trouble-free, “Leave it to Beaver” life until the day his stomach burst open at the age of 30. No, it didn’t happen like a scene in an “Alien” movie. But it did require emergency surgery just a few months after he married his wife Nell. In “Operating on Faith,” Matt channels his gift for integrating humor into everything – even his own pain – and reflects on the experiences that left him a changed man. Ultimately, he comes to see the way God works through other people, and offers this book as a testimony of love to his wife.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to author/retired astronaut Mike Massimino)
SPACEMAN by Mike Massimino. ()Crown Archetype/Crown Publishing) – The odds were stacked against Mike Massimino ever fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. He struggled with self-doubt, a fear of heights, and even poor eyesight. But seeing the movie “The Right Stuff” in 1983 reawakened his desire to enter the space program and become part of a team that would make the world a better place. Mike overcame numerous obstacles to join NASA and fly in two Space Shuttle missions, including the historic final repair of the Hubble Telescope. In “Spaceman,” he tells us how he accomplished it all – and why it left him with a new appreciation of the divine beauty that surrounds us.
James Keller Award/Books for Adults
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Awards to double winner Dr. Chuck Dietzen.)
The final winner in the Books for Adults category is also the winner of our James Keller Award. Named after The Christophers’ founder, it’s presented to individuals who are shaping the lives of young people in a positive way. That’s where Dr. Chuck Dietzen comes in.
Ordinarily, if a doctor walked into your hospital room and pulled a whoopee cushion out of his bag, you might think twice before letting him treat you. But Dr. Chuck’s patients love it because he’s in charge of pediatric rehab at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Dr. Chuck’s concern for children was instilled in him at a young age because his parents took in 150 foster kids when he was growing up – and even adopted two of them despite the financial hardship it would cause the family.
As he got older, Dr. Chuck pursued a career in pediatrics. And because of his background in sports, he specialized in physical rehabilitation for disabled children. His mission expanded even more in 1997 after meeting Mother Teresa during a trip to India. She taught him that it’s okay to “be ordinary,” but we should all have “an extraordinary mission.” She also advised him to offer hope to all his patients, even the ones he couldn’t cure. That experience led Dr. Chuck to see that he had a God-given mission to be a healer, so he founded Timmy Global Health. Named after his brother, who died a few days after birth, the organization enlists students and medical volunteers in its mission to bring healthcare to those in need around the world.
Meanwhile, Dr. Chuck managed to integrate his other career into his medical work here in the U.S. You see, he’s also a wrestler known as Dr. Doom. And every year, his patients take him on in the ring as part of a fundraiser for Timmy Global Health and Riley Hospital. Dr. Doom has yet to win a match, even though he competes against seven-year-olds.
And that brings us to Dr. Chuck’s Christopher Award-winning book: “Pint-Sized Prophets.” That’s how he sees the young people he treats: as prophets. “They are incredible souls,” he says, “who were sent here to make us better, more compassionate, more kind, and more human.” The other thing they’ve taught him is that we are all born to be healers. Each of us, not just doctors and nurses, can provide some kind of healing to the people around us who are in pain physically, emotionally, or spiritually. And so, The Christophers are happy to recognize Dr. Chuck Dietzen with two awards: one for his book, and the other for his work. It’s an honor he has truly earned.
Books for Young People
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to author Sally Lloyd-Jones)
For Preschool and Up:
BABY WREN AND THE GREAT GIFT by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Illustrated by Jen Corace. (Zonderkidz/Harper Collins Christian Publishing) – After leaving her nest to explore the surrounding canyon, a baby wren gets invited to go diving with a kingfisher, cartwheeling with ring-tailed cats, and soaring with eagles. But the baby wren feels inadequate because she can’t do any of these things. It isn’t until she is moved by the beauty of a sunset that she discovers she has the unique ability to fill the sky with a joyful song, impressing all the creatures around her. “Baby Wren and the Great Gift” offers a delightful lesson that will help children get in touch with the special talents that God has given each of them.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to author Kobi Yamada.)
For Kindergarten and up:
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A PROBLEM? by Kobi Yamada. Illustrated by Mae Besom. (Compendium) – One day, a child finds that he has a problem. He doesn’t want it, so he scowls at it and shoos it away. But the problem doesn’t go anywhere. Worry starts consuming the child. The more he avoids the problem, the more he sees it everywhere. Finally, he realizes his worrying has actually made the problem bigger, so he decides to tackle it head on and learns something amazing. His problem held an opportunity to learn, grow, and be brave. Now, the child isn’t afraid of problems anymore. He knows they can lead to something good.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to author Caron Levis)
For ages 6 and up:
IDA, ALWAYS by Caron Levis. Illustrated by Charles Santoso. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon and Schuster) – Gus and Ida are the Central Park Zoo’s resident polar bears, who are also the best of friends. They play together every day, and can even feel the city’s heartbeat around them always. Then, Ida’s illness forces them to explore the challenging emotions of dealing with death – and sensitively shows children how to deal with loss in their own lives. When Ida passes away, Gus misses her terribly. But he comes to feel her presence when he sits in the spot where she liked to soak in the sun. And he knows that she is with him – always.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to author Susan Hood and illustrator Sally Wern Comport)
For ages 8 and up:
ADA’S VIOLIN by Susan Hood. Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers) – Eleven-year old Ada Rios loved music, especially the idea of learning to play the violin. But there wasn’t much hope of that growing up in a Paraguayan slum whose main business was recycling garbage from the local landfill. The arrival of music teacher Favio Chavez changed that. Though Ada and the other children couldn’t afford real instruments, Chavez turned to recyclers to build violins, guitars, flutes, and more out of discarded trash. Today, the Recycled Orchestra, as the group is called, has 200 members and has performed around the world, literally using garbage to create beauty.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to author Joan Bauer)
For ages 10 and up:
SOAR by Joan Bauer. (Viking/Penguin Young Readers Group) – It seems like a cruel twist of fate that a boy who loves baseball can’t play the game because of a serious heart condition. But that’s the case with 12-year-old Jeremiah Lopper. He doesn’t indulge in self-pity too long, though, before learning to adjust his dream. Jeremiah becomes a middle school baseball coach in a town disgraced by a steroid scandal. And he reminds everyone that character, compassion, and fair play matter even more than winning. While also exploring themes of adoption and autism, this warm and witty novel will make readers’ hearts soar on wings like eagles.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to author Ann E. Burg)
For young adults:
UNBOUND by Ann E. Burg. (Scholastic Press/Scholastic) – A young slave girl named Grace can’t stay silent when faced with the cruelty of her owners, so they take revenge by planning to sell her brothers and mother at auction. That prompts Grace and her family to escape into the Great Dismal Swamp, a wild wetland spanning the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. Inspired by true stories of slaves who sought sanctuary in the same area, “Unbound” is a tense novel-in-verse about one family’s courageous quest for freedom and dignity. It’s also a reminder, as Grace says, that “the good Lord made this big beautiful world for everybody.”
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to co-screenwriter Robert Schenkkan)
HACKSAW RIDGE (Lionsgate) – Desmond Doss so deeply believed in the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” that he refused to pick up a gun after joining the Army during World War Two. He was, however, willing to serve as a medic who saved lives on the battlefield. Doss’s convictions earned him intense abuse from his fellow soldiers and superiors, who branded him a coward and unworthy to serve. Yet at the battle of Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, Doss saved 75 lives without firing a single shot. Soon after, he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor because of praise from the same soldiers who had once persecuted him.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to Senior Coordinator of National Publicity for 20th Century Fox, Charlie Kuder)
HIDDEN FIGURES (20th Century Fox) – While everyone knows pioneering astronauts like John Glenn, few people have heard of the NASA heroines who worked behind-the-scenes to help the U.S. win the space race against the Russians. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were three of the African American mathematicians who faced down racism and sexism to contribute to the success of their country. Their intelligence, talent, and willingness to stand up for themselves finally earned them the opportunities they wanted and deserved. “Hidden Figures” shares their previously-unknown story, and ensures that these timeless role models remain hidden no more.
THE HOLLARS (Sony Pictures Classics) – When struggling artist John Hollar returns to his hometown to visit his hospitalized mother, he learns that his family is a mess. His father is losing his business, his brother is struggling with a divorce, and John himself is afraid of becoming a first-time father. But as the Hollars walk through life’s painful moments together, little moments of grace help them realize how much they love each other and need to forgive each other. By exploring the complex-but-loving relationship between parents and their adult children, “The Hollars” reminds us that even dysfunctional families can find happiness.
QUEEN OF KATWE (Walt Disney Studios/ESPN Films) – An illiterate girl named Phiona has no real hope of ever rising above the poverty that surrounds her in rural Uganda. But when she is introduced to the game of chess by a local church ministry’s coach, she slowly gains a new vision of the future. Based on a true story, “Queen of Katwe” celebrates the lifelines that opportunity, education, and encouragement bring Phiona and the children around her. Through hard work and self-confidence, Phiona becomes a chess champion and role model, reflecting one teammates assertion that “In chess, the small one can become the big one.”
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to producer Nicole Young)
60 MINUTES: GOLD STAR PARENTS (CBS News) – The term “Gold Star parents” refers to mothers and fathers whose children were killed while serving in the U.S. military. These parents bore a heavy and lonely burden until a group of military moms and a Marine veterans group created an annual program that brings them together. This “60 Minutes” segment explores the healing these parents find in sharing their burdens and their memories with each other. To know they are welcomed and loved by others who’ve walked through the same dark valley results in a redeeming experience that ensures their beloved sons and daughters will not be forgotten.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to America ReFramed series publicist Neyda Martinez)
AMERICA REFRAMED: IN THE GAME (World Channel) – The members of the girls’ soccer team at Chicago’s Kelly High School don’t just worry about scoring goals. These children of Hispanic immigrants deal with poverty, discrimination, and even budget cuts that require students to bring their own toilet paper to school. Yet perseverance, optimism, and a strong work ethic motivate the girls to pursue a better life. Their positive attitude stems from their coach, who fosters an unbreakable bond between his players – and reminds them that life will knock everybody down. It’s the willingness to “get back up and move forward” that makes all the difference.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to A&E Supervising Producer Jeana Dill)
BORN THIS WAY: BACHELOR PAD (A&E) – Work, friendship, romance, and dreams. The seven young adults on this reality TV series pursue them all, and defy society’s expectations for people with Down Syndrome. In this episode, two friends – Sean and Steven – deal with the anxiety and excitement of moving out of their parents’ homes and renting a house together. We also follow Meg, a young woman going on her first job interview. “Born This Way” demonstrates that people with Down Syndrome lead joyful, challenging, chaotically-normal lives, just like anyone else. They may face a few more obstacles, but they’re more than up to the task.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to executive producer Sam Haskell with actress Mary Lane Haskell, who portrayed Dolly Parton’s teacher Miss Moody in the movie)
DOLLY PARTON’S CHRISTMAS OF MANY COLORS: CIRCLE OF LOVE (NBC) – Growing up poor in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Dolly Parton and her siblings each got one store-bought gift for Christmas every year. But when her father wants to buy Dolly’s mom the wedding ring he’s never been able to afford, the kids sacrifice their presents to help him raise the money. This sequel to last year’s Christopher Award-winning “Coat of Many Colors” highlights the love, kindness, and faith that sustained the Partons through difficult times. It also provides plenty of holiday cheer, including a Christmas pageant in which young Dolly is cast as the Virgin Mary, prompting her teacher to consume lots of antacid.
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Award to production team Annie Sundberg, Ricki Stern, Nancy Abraham, Jameka Autry, and Jake Abraham)
MARATHON: THE PATRIOTS DAY BOMBING (HBO) – Heroism and resilience are on full display in this powerful documentary about the bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. From the explosions, to rescue efforts, to the terrorist manhunt, the filmmakers take us through it all. But most importantly, they give us an intimate look at the lives of several victims who lost legs in the attack, as well as the physical and emotional battles they face in their ongoing rehabilitation efforts. With a renewed appreciation for life and the people they love, the survivors demonstrate that the human spirit remains Boston Strong.
THIS IS US: PILOT (NBC) – You can take the sourest lemon that life has to offer, and still turn it into something resembling lemonade. That’s the theme in the pilot episode of “This is Us,” which introduces viewers to the Pearson family as they deal with issues like losing a child, adoption, weight struggles, career frustration, and even an adult son forgiving the father who abandoned him as a baby. Despite everything, the Pearsons are grounded in sacrificial love for each other, and remind viewers that the bonds of family can add sweetness and grace to the most difficult situations.
Christopher Leadership Award
(Father Jonathan Morris presents Christopher Leadership Award to Patti Ann McDonald with her son Conor, who introduced his mother)
You may remember the story of New York City police officer Steven McDonald being shot while on-duty in Central Park in 1986. His injuries left him confined to a wheelchair and needing a ventilator to breathe for the rest of his life. Steven became a hero to many because of his willingness to forgive the young man who shot him, for his mission to build bridges of peace between warring peoples, and for his living testimony that life with a disability can be filled with purpose and meaning.
But Steven’s wife Patti Ann, who stood next to him through everything, is a role model and hero herself. Steven credited her with giving him the will to live 31 years ago, so they could together raise the child she would soon give birth to: a son they named Conor. Patti Ann’s trust in God kept Steven hopeful that better times were ahead, and her modeling of sacrificial love became the rock that Steven and Conor could always lean on. In addition, after years as a Trustee of the Village of Malverne, Patti Ann was elected Mayor. She is serving her tenth year in that position. She’s also coached tennis for a local school for 12 years; and she and Steven both coached a girls’ basketball and softball team.
Steven McDonald passed on earlier this year, but the love he shared with Patti Ann remains eternal. She has become a living witness to the Christopher ideal that “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” For that reason, The Christophers were honored to present Patti Ann McDonald with our 2017 Christopher Leadership Award.