Dr. Tom Catena

1964

Laureate of Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity in 2017

The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative honours the esteemed Catholic Missionary physician in war-torn Sudan for rekindling our collective faith in humanity. Tom Catena was born in Amsterdam, New York. He went on to study mechanical engineering at Brown, in the U.S., before enrolling at Duke to study medicine on a naval scholarship. After he completed an internship at the Naval Medical Center San Diego in 1993, Catena joined the U.S. Navy, and for the next four years, he served his country as a flight surgeon. After his discharge from the Navy in 1999, Catena began residency in family medicine at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana, while also participating in medical mission trips to Guyana and Honduras. Having received experience working at international missions, he moved to Kenya, then to Nairobi and South Sudan before finally settling in the Nuba Mountain region.

Since 2007, Dr. Catena has been on call 24 hours, seven days a week at the Mother of Mercy Catholic Hospital to care for the more than 750,000 citizens of Nuba amidst the ongoing civil war between the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement. Humanitarian aid is restricted here. Very few NGOs still operate due to the Khartoum government's blockade. Since 2012, while aid has not been expressly forbidden, none has arrived as volunteers are unable to travel into the region. Limited by his surroundings, Catena sometimes uses decades-old treatments and engages the local community to work as nurses and in other roles to assist him and the patients.

Being the only surgeon who is working in Nuba Mountains under the dangerous circumstances, Dr. Tom, as they call him, is the only hope for people living in the neighbourhood. Patients frequently travel by foot or hitchhiking for up to a week to reach the Mother of Mercy Hospital, where Catena practices.

For his contributions to furthering humanity and his efforts to save people’s lives, Dr. Catena has been awarded the $1 million Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity in the 2017 awards ceremony, becoming the second recipient of the annual prize.