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To support youth educational programs for St. Michael Catholic School and Parish in Livonia, Michigan.

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Author: Dan Meloy
Republished with permission from Detroit Catholic

 

Catholic Foundation’s St. Margaret of Castello Granting Fund inspired by success of St. Mary Catholic Central in Monroe

 

STERLING HEIGHTS — The Catholic Foundation of Michigan is looking to raise between $2 million and $5 million in seed money for a granting foundation that will help Catholic schools be more inclusive for students with special needs.

The foundation launched the St. Margaret of Castello Granting Fund, which will award $50,000 grants to schools to acquire the resources and know-how needed to incorporate students with special needs into the general school environment.

The fund’s purpose is to empower Catholic schools across the state to better accommodate students with special needs so they, too, can experience a Catholic learning environment, said Paul Mersino of the Catholic Foundation of Michigan’s St. Margaret of Castello Granting Fund board.

“What we aim to do is spread special education in Catholic schools,” Mersino told Detroit Catholic. “Those children who are the most vulnerable and the most in need, we believe should have the same opportunities as all our students and all our children. This organization seeks to raise awareness and raise funds to help Catholic schools who wish to expand into special education if they wish to do so.”

Paul Mersino, a member of the St. Margaret of Castello Granting Fund’s board of directors, speaks with benefactors July 19 during an event to support the new initiative at Penna’s of Sterling in Sterling Heights. (Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

The fund would offer two, $50,000 grants per year, which two Catholic schools could apply toward starting a special needs education program in their schools. Schools could reapply for the grant for a second year, with the idea being the program can become self-sustaining and meet the specific needs of the school and students.

“Catholic schools and most private schools are strapped for cash, trying to do the most they can with the resources they have with the students they have,” said Mersino, whose youngest son, Jacob, 4, has Down syndrome. “What we seek to do is take away their two biggest needs. One, the resources and the know-how on how to build an inclusive program, and two, raising the funds to operate the program.”

The St. Margaret of Castello Granting Fund takes its cue from Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central’s St. Andre Bessette Open Door Inclusion Program, which started in 2018 when Steve and Aimee Goda wanted their son, Jacob, to follow in the footsteps of his brother and sister and go to St. Mary Catholic Central.

St. Mary Catholic Central sophomore (at the time) Jacob Goda works on the yearbook staff with the assistance of Katie Raymond and teacher Nancy Masuda in 2018. Goda is a graduate of St. Mary’s St. Andre Bessette Open Door Inclusion Program, which serves students with special learning needs. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

The Goda family attended a private event benefiting the St. Margaret of Castello Granting Fund on July 19 at Penna’s of Sterling in Sterling Heights, where they and Sean Jorgensen, president of St. Mary Catholic Central, shared how inclusive education has helped the Goda family and the St. Mary Catholic Central community.

“If you ever get a chance to meet Jacob, in a minute and a half you will begin to understand what an incredible impact he has been on our community at St. Mary Catholic Central in Monroe,” Jorgensen said. “One thing we were told very early on (when making the program) that we couldn’t wrap our minds around is whatever we would do for Jacob and other students in our inclusion program, they have given back to us a hundredfold.

“Jacob’s presence in our community transformed the culture in our school, making us a more caring, compassionate, engaged community that has reached into every corner of what it means to be a Catholic school,” Jorgensen added.

Jacob is now a freshman at the University of Toledo, playing intermural basketball, and accompanied St. Mary Catholic Central students to the University of Notre Dame for a training seminar on what it takes to be a student-mentor for St. Mary Catholic Central’s inclusion program.

Jorgensen said St. Mary Catholic Central’s inclusion program has expanded to nine students this year, among the school’s 330-student enrollment.

St. Mary Catholic Central president Sean Jorgensen poses for a photo with Jacob Goda, a graduate of the school’s St. Andre Bessette Open Door Inclusion Program, during a benefit dinner for the new St. Margaret of Castello Granting Fund, which seeks to support programs like St. Mary Catholic Central’s in Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit. (Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

“When we began this journey, it was about learning to say ‘yes’ — say ‘yes’ and take a risk,” Jorgensen said. “I remember saying, ‘We’re not sure how this is going to work,’ when we had the conversation with Steve and Aimee on what Jacob needs, what they were looking for and what we needed to understand.”

Catholic Foundation of Michigan leaders looked to St. Mary Catholic Central’s program when forming the St. Margaret of Castello Granting Fund, along with programs at St. William School in Walled Lake and Divine Child in Dearborn. The committee also reached out to John Paul II High School in Nashville, Tenn., Cathedral Catholic in San Diego, Calif., and Bishop O’Connell in Arlington, Va., for advice on how to develop an inclusion program.

Going around the country, the committee found that inclusion programs in Catholic schools are definitely the exception and not the norm, said Joe Viviano, a board member who emceed the July 19 event.

“We’re here to promote special education inclusion in the Catholic school system,” said Viviano, who was there with his daughter, Izzy, 15, who has autism spectrum disorder. “More often than not, families are either turned away from our schools, or like what happened in my family, one of the kids had to go off to public school alone, the most vulnerable one, and the others attended Catholic school.”

Viviano said his experience and the experience of other families is not meant to be an indictment of Catholic schools, but a wakeup call to the entire Catholic community to empower Catholic schools to better serve students with special needs.

“We are here tonight so we can lift our schools, encourage them, help them. The ones who have the courage to take on this opportunity, we’re here to help them,” Viviano said. “We know what we’re asking them to do is not easy. If it was easy, it already would have been done.

Viviano acknowledged that “serious obstacles” exist that might prevent a Catholic school from embarking on such a journey.

“The biggest one obviously is financial resources, but there is also a fear of the unknown, fear of disrupting the other kids and their programs, fear of burning out our teachers,” Viviano said. “A lot of our teachers in

Catholic Foundation of Michigan president and CEO Angela Moloney, center, talks with benefactors during the July 19 event. Moloney said the St. Margaret of Castello Granting Fund seeks to allow Catholic schools to overcome the twin obstacles of funding and expertise as it provides tools to allow schools to better serve students with special needs. (Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

our schools are taking less money, but are there because they believe in the mission. This charity exists to knock down those obstacles.”

The Catholic Foundation of Michigan had already collected $800,000 before the July 19 event. Angela Moloney, president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation of Michigan, challenged the 150 attendees to get the fund up to $1 million before the night ended.

“Imagine what we can do when we come together on this,” Moloney said. “Imagine how frustrating it is — and many of you know — to be that parent who is struggling. I have nieces and nephews who have autism, and I see my siblings struggling, and we don’t have to do it alone. When we come together as a community, look at what we get to do.”

Moloney encouraged donors to speak with Jorgensen and Goda family about what special education inclusion means to them and means to a Christ-centered school.

“When we met with the Goda family this spring, they told me the biggest change isn’t in the kids; it’s about the community looking different,” Moloney said. “I know St. Mary Catholic Central in Monroe has changed, and the community has shifted. Imagine if our entire Catholic community was just as welcoming.”

Whether you are a volunteer, educator, parent, or donor, discover how you can contribute and learn more by visiting the St. Margaret of Castello website today. Explore the stories of resilience, learn about our initiatives, and discover the meaningful ways in which you can contribute to this transformative cause. Together, we can build a more inclusive future for all children.

 

On Tuesday, May 16, 2023, the Catholic Foundation of Michigan publicly introduced the newly formed St. Margaret of Castello Granting Fund.  The event was sponsored by Corporate Travel Service in its beautiful event space and hosted John and Kristan Hale—along with event hosts Mr. Ken Weingartz, Rod and Karen Mersino, Angela Moloney, Paul Mersino, and Joe and Laura Viviano.  The gathering was held to announce the creation of the St. Margaret of Castello Fund and inspire the community to join the Fund’s efforts.

It was attended by over 60 people and consisted of moving personal witnesses from families impacted by the desire for inclusive educational options for children with significant learning differences. A presentation by Paul Mersino on the history and purpose of the Fund, a video of the successful inclusion program at St. Mary’s Catholic Central Monroe, as well as a call to action by Foundation President and CEO, Angela Moloney.   The event concluded with questions and answers and numerous pledges of support from those in attendance, including an anonymous matching contribution of $200,000.  It was an unforgettable evening, and everyone there could attest to the passion in our Catholic community for this cause and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Named after the patron saint for disabled children, the St. Margaret of Castello Fund was established with the purpose of facilitating access to Catholic education for children who have been traditionally excluded from Catholic schools due to their learning differences or special needs.  The Fund—administered through the Catholic Foundation—is seeking to raise up to $5 Million in order to provide grants to Catholic schools who wish to create or expand an inclusive special education program willing to teach all students who apply, even those with intellectual disabilities such as Down Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or other similar needs.

In addition to granting funds to schools, the St. Margaret of Castello Fund is also compiling research, resources, and other information that it can provide to schools interested in starting such a program.  This “playbook” is a best-practices compilation that can be used as a framework for schools to adapt to their own specific needs.  The goal of the organization is nothing short of full inclusive special education programs at every Catholic school, whether K-8 or high school.

Be inspired to join the St. Margaret of Castello Fund’s mission as we strive for fully inclusive special education programs in every Catholic school. While the Fund has already received generous support, there is still much to raise and accomplish. Whether you are a volunteer, educator, parent, or donor, discover how you can contribute and learn more by visiting the St. Margaret of Castello website today. Explore the stories of resilience, learn about our initiatives, and discover the meaningful ways in which you can contribute to this transformative cause. Together, we can build a more inclusive future for all children.

 


Stephanie Quesnelle
Data Driven Detroit, Senior Research Analyst, Worker Owner

A teacher for more than 50 years at Michigan Catholic high schools, Sr. Rose Mary Sam has inspired students, parents, parishioners and friends to join her at Lourdes and serve as volunteers at the “City of the Poor” — so much so that the Catholic Foundation of Michigan created the Our Lady of Lourdes Pilgrimage charitable fund to continue Sister Sam’s 45-year mission.

Current Catholic Foundation board member, Rosanne (Bommarito) Brugnoni, a former student at Bishop Gallagher in the late 1970s, opened the fund in 2021 to honor her former teacher.

The fund created in Sr. Sam’s name will help provide two University of Detroit Mercy students with the chance to join medical professionals in caring for the sick and dying who have made the spiritual trek to Lourdes.

Sr. Rose Mary Sam with Emma Pehote and Allison Molloy, the 2022 UDM scholarship recipients.

“The vision was to create a scholarship fund – while Sr. Rose Mary Sam was still alive – to honor Sister’s 45 year legacy and create an opportunity for medical professionals to accompany the sick and dying on a journey of hope and healing,” shares Brugnoni, creator of the fund.

“The Catholic Foundation of Michigan provided the perfect landscape to work and collaborate with other organizations that shared a similar vision in creating the scholarship fund.”

The collaboration that was created with University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) College and Order of Malta for health care scholarship recipients was beyond the expectations of the fund’s initial vision.  After two years of planning and fundraising, the two UDM healthcare students received scholarships and will be traveling on May 2nd for a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. Sr. Sam will be joined by a total of five travelers for the pilgrimage, including two UDM representatives who were so inspired by the pilgrimage that they self-funded their own trip to join the journey. These representatives had played an instrumental role in recruiting and interviewing the scholarship recipients.

“The spiritual impact of this transformational experience will enrich and empower their vocational calling and personal life. Please keep the students and all those traveling in your prayers,” shares Rosanne.

Past students, friends, and colleagues have been inspired to support this meaningful cause. You too can become a part of this living legacy.

Your support will honor the compassionate legacy of Sister Rose Mary Sam and help extend the spiritually transformative experience of volunteerism at Lourdes to future generations of healthcare professionals. Become part of the Living Legacy to honor Sister Rose May Sam’s 45-year legacy of helping others achieve a transformative, spiritual journey of hope, healing, and reconciliation.

GIVE NOW AND BECOME A PART OF THIS LEGACY

More Information About the Our Lady of Lourdes Scholarship



Update: 5/20/2023


Greetings from Lourdes, France!

A group of pilgrims and two Catholic Foundation of Michigan scholarship fund recipients from the University of Detroit Mercy join Archbishop Vigneron and Sr. Rose Mary Sam with the Order of Malta In Lourdes, France.

Hear more about the impact of this scholarship fund directly from the award recipients in Lourdes, France by watching the video below.

‘This experience has deepened my level of compassion and enhanced my spiritual connection to patient care.’ -Our Lady of Lourdes scholarship recipient

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 27, 2023

CONTACT: Don Tanner (248) 762-1533

dtanner@tannerfriedman.com

 

 

CATHOLIC FOUNDATION OF MICHIGAN NAMES CHRIS ALLEN AS NEW CHAIR OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS

 

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – The Catholic Foundation of Michigan has named Chris Allen as the organization’s new Chair of the Board of Directors. The announcement was made by Angela Moloney, President and CEO of the Foundation.

Allen has served on the executive committee of the Board since 2019 including playing a key role in the areas of Board Governance and Nomination, and Grant and Impact. Allen replaces Pat Fehring who served as the organization’s inaugural Board Chair. With Fehring and Archbishop Vigneron, Allen also acted as a leader on the Founders Circle Pilgrimage to Greece, following in the footstep of St. Paul.

“I am honored to serve as the second Chair of the Catholic Foundation of Michigan,” said Allen. “Pat did a wonderful job in leading the board through five years of continuous growth. His vision and leadership cultivated $16.2 million dollars in grants and our position today as a $38 million dollar organization with true community impact.”

Allen’s service to community has also included acting as Chair of the Bon Secours Mercy Health System Board of Trustees, a $9 billion dollar healthcare multistate and international organization, and as Chair of Finance Committee for the Catholic Medical Mission Board. His extensive corporate background includes serving as President and CEO, Authority Health;  Executive Vice-President/COO, Hutzel Hospital; Corporate Vice President/Management Services, The Detroit Medical Center; Administrator, Detroit Osteopathic Hospital; and as Assistant Director, Hurley Medical Center.

“My goal is the bring the knowledge acquired through my life and experiences to further enhance the wonderful work of the Foundation, improve our name recognition with the support of the Board, and continue to unleash the gospel to people served in our region,” added Allen. “We are also blessed to have Ms. Angela Moloney and her staff leading the Foundation.”

“I am both grateful and excited to have Chris Allen accept the role as Board Chair of the Foundation,” said Patrick Fehring. “He has been a passionate supporter of the Foundation and active Board Member since our founding. I am confident he will lead the organization in its mission to support Catholic Ministries.”

The Catholic Foundation of Michigan serves as the center of Catholic philanthropy, building stronger communities and supporting Catholic ministries in their work.  Established and managed by lay Catholics in 2016 as a Michigan 501c3 nonprofit, the Foundation is endorsed by the Archdiocese of Detroit.

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