Author: Daniel Meloy
Photos and Article republished with permission from Detroit Catholic

Consortium of Catholic Foundations 2024 CEO Symposium held at St. John’s Resort to share ideas on lay-led Catholic stewardship

PLYMOUTH — Catholic donors and philanthropists across the country rely on Catholic foundations to use their gifts and contributions with wisdom and prudence, supporting and maintaining the ministries they hold dear.There are 187 Catholic foundations, lay-led organizations that manage planned giving, trust funds and donations to the Catholic mission, ever since the first was established in the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth in 1955.

These organizations, separate from the Catholic dioceses themselves, have become a hallmark of Catholic philanthropy in many parts of the country, including the Archdiocese of Detroit with the Catholic Foundation of Michigan, founded in 2017.

Leaders of Catholic foundations from across the country gathered at St. John’s Resort in Plymouth from May 7-9 for the 12th Consortium of Catholic Foundations CEO Symposium, hosted by the Catholic Foundation of Michigan.

“We do this gathering once a year to share information and best practices,” Edward Larranaga, president of the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of Sante Fe, New Mexico, and on the committee that organizes the symposium, told Detroit Catholic. “It offers information that is topical to everyone in Catholic foundations … just sharing best practices and what everyone is doing.”

The gathering allowed CEOs of Catholic foundations to come together in prayer and discernment, sharing successes and challenges they face in managing financial assets bequeathed to them by donors who wish to support ministries close to their hearts.

“The Consortium of Catholic Foundations is a national, CEO-only member community of the leaders of Catholic foundations all across the nation,” said Colleen Mitchell, member services steward for the Consortium of Catholic Foundations.

This year’s symposium, themed “Season of Abundance: A Grateful Way,” featured 45 members learning from one another, exploring topics such as good board governance, maintaining healthy and independent relationships with dioceses and the impact of artificial intelligence on Catholic-inspired investment portfolios.

The idea is for each Catholic foundation leader to return to their home diocese or province better equipped with the know-how it takes to manage philanthropic funds in the 21st century, Mitchell explained.

Angela Moloney, president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation of Michigan, hosted a roundtable with Detroit-area donors and recipients of funds on managing donor-advised funds, funds donors set up through the Catholic Foundation of Michigan to support a specific ministry, such as scholarships for a school or to promote music ministries in parishes.

Moloney asked both donors and a person whose school receives money from donor-advised funds about their experience working with the Catholic Foundation of Michigan, specifically how important it is for donors and recipients to tell their stories and explain how a donor’s contributions are specifically helping a particular ministry.

The panel of donors and donor recipients took questions from Catholic foundations from across the country about their experience working with donor-advised funds and the impact they have had.

Anita Sevier of Gesu School in Detroit spoke about how starting a donor-advised fund for the school has boosted the school’s finances as it works to serve a population in inner-city Detroit that is not always Catholic and often lacks financial resources.

“I know sometimes it might only be $100 or $200, but whenever we get that check, that is one less major purchase of school supplies we need to make, and we write a thank you note for every check we receive; that’s something we learned from Angela (Moloney) and her team,” Sevier said.

Beyond learning best practices and sharing success stories, the symposium was a time of faith and fellowship.

“I enjoy getting together with peers who feel the same way I do,” Larranaga said. “You don’t feel like you are an island when you go to an event like this. Oftentimes at a Catholic foundation, you are an island, you feel like there is nobody else to whom you can relate.”

Catholic foundations throughout the country all have the same goal — to be a vehicle for Catholic philanthropy in supporting the missions of the Church — and each one has its own unique challenges, said Matt Kramer, president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation of Dallas.

“You can say ‘Catholic foundation,’ but when you’ve seen one, then all you’ve seen is one, since they are all different and organized differently,” Kramer said. “That’s why this is a great opportunity to share knowledge and experience to avoid mistakes.”

Kramer said Catholic foundations have been game-changers since the first one was established in his diocese in the 1950s, the first time an American bishop trusted financial governance to a lay-led organization.

“It was a historical event in the Catholic Church because that had never happened before,” Kramer said. “We are a lay-led organization that is not part of the diocese. My bosses change every two years.”

“There is a certain trust we have built with donors because we are independent, and it is our job to maintain that trust,” Kramer added. “Our first obligation is to the donors. If you don’t have donor intention in mind, then you would be out of business. Our job as Catholic foundation presidents and CEOs is making sure gifts and donations are being used for what they are intended, verifying the ministries we support are carrying out the wishes of our clients.”

Each day of the conference ended with Mass in the Saints Mary and Joseph Chapel, where the CEOs could reflect on just whose mission and whose kingdom they were supporting through their work of managing financial assets and gifts to the Church.

Masses were celebrated by Msgr. Chuck Kosanke of the Basilica of Ste. Anne in Detroit, Detroit Auxiliary Bishop and bishop-elect of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., Gerard Battersby and Fr. John McKenzie of Christ the King Parish in Detroit.

During his homily, Bishop Battersby asked those gathered to never take for granted the importance of their work.

“The mission of the Church is to inculcate and announce the truth about God and the human person,” Bishop Battersby said. “That God is love, and the object of His love is humanity, you and me. It’s God’s plan to re-establish all of creation in His son, Jesus — to re-establish you and me, in Jesus. So the very trajectory of our lives is aimed to replicate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

“Your involvement is a very important task for the Church,” Bishop Battersby continued. “We can spiritualize everything, but the truth of the matter is the kids still need shoes, the roof still has to get repaired and the mission of Christ needs to go forward. So don’t doubt what you do, offered to Christ, in union with His mission, is a path to sanctification.”

Learn more about the Consortium of Catholic Foundations