Catherine Murphy
Catherine Murphy

Two St. Mary’s Academy students have received writing awards from the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland.

This year’s essay topic was “The Geography of Hope,” and St. Mary’s Academy junior Catherine Murphy took first place. Junior Tara Johnson received an honorable mention.

“The judging committee was very impressed that both Catherine and Tara did not write careful papers designed to please a teacher, or merely to address the topic of hope in an academic sense, but wrote from the heart, wrote with verve and commitment. In a real sense they wrote essays about a topic they cared very much about – the geography of hope – and their investment in the idea and its holy possibilities came beaming from their work like a light,” said Rev. Jim Lies, executive director of the Garaventa Center.

The essay contest is open to juniors at Catholic schools in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Nevada. First-place winners receive a $500 cash prize, and those earning honorable mention receive $250.

Murphy, 16, was adopted from China as a toddler. For her essay, she wrote about a trip she took in the summer of 2010 to visit the orphanage and foster home where she stayed during her first year of life.

“It was very eye-opening,” she said. “To go back to the country that nurtured me as an infant was nice.”

For her essay, Johnson, 16, delved into social justice issues she observed when visiting India, where her mother is from.

“It means a lot to me that the things I write about that I really care about resonate with other people,” Johnson said of the Garaventa Center honor.

The fact that they were writing about topics and places so deeply important to them helped infuse their essays with spirit and authenticity, said Sara Salvi, chairwoman of the English Department at St. Mary’s Academy.

“The true success of their moving essays is the way they fearlessly explored their interior, personal ‘geography’ of hope in the face of challenging circumstances. I am so proud of both the work and the heart these girls put into their essays,” Salvi said.