TORONTO – The Catholic Civil Rights League has named Michael O'Brien, a world-renowned Canadian author and artist, the 2012 recipient of the Archbishop Adam Exner Award for Catholic Excellence in Public Life.
This annual award recognizes "outstanding lay achievement in advocacy, education, life issues, media and culture, and philanthropy."
"It was a total surprise," a humble O'Brien told The Catholic Register. "I try to live a normal life as a Catholic artist."
Joanne McGarry, executive director of the rights league, said O'Brien was chosen for his contributions to literature and art.
"There's a very strong Catholic theme in his work," McGarry said.
O'Brien's life is full of extraordinary accomplishment. He has written for several international journals, including Catholic World Report and Inside the Vatican.
As an artist of religious imagery, his pieces are shown around the world. And he has met success as an author of nine books, including the well-known Father Elijah: An Apocalypse.
He is editing his 10th book, his first attempt at science fiction, entitled, Voyage to Alpha Centauri.
O'Brien describes his faith as his source of inspiration.
"My Catholic faith is my life," O'Brien said. "Any true artist is going to be making his works from the heart of his soul. He's not going to be compartmentalizing his being.
"In my novels, I've focused on the dignity of the human person," O'Brien said. "I tell stories of the despised and the rejected and I tell the beauty of their human struggles."
League president Philip Horgan said in a press release that "Michael has given a powerful witness in the world of art and literature, and his work has given spiritual enrichment to countless individuals."
A pretty big accolade for a man who insists that he is anonymous in Canada.
"My novels have been published in 10 languages and are very widely known around the world, but it's only in my native land that I'm pretty much unknown as a writer," O'Brien said.
"This award moves me. It's an honour."
Previous recipients of the award, established in 2004, include author, columnist and broadcaster Michael Coren and Suzanne LaVallee, a leader in Quebec education.
O'Brien will receive the award at the rights league's annual dinner in Toronto on June 7.