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Newly launched Women’s Giving Circle awards first grants, gathers for program

News of the Diocese

June 6, 2024

Newly launched Women’s Giving Circle awards first grants, gathers for program

In just over two months, members of the Diocese of Cleveland’s Women’s Giving Circle, an initiative of the Catholic Community Foundation, attended a Mass and lunch gathering for its founding members, heard pitches from six nonprofits seeking grants from the new group, awarded the first batch of grants and heard a presentation from Jim Towey, an attorney for the late St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was canonized in 2016.

Mary Lou Ozimek, assistant CCF director, said the group is off to a great start.

The purpose of the Women’s Giving Circle is to raise awareness and funds to support organizations serving the community through engaged and collective philanthropy. It operates under the guidance of the CCF, which coordinates diocesan fundraising.

About 85 members of the Giving Circle gathered at the Center for Pastoral Leadership on April 18 to hear pitches from Families of Promise, Refugee Resource Center, Adoption and Family Services, Joseph and Mary’s Home, Collaborative to End Human Trafficking and Zelie’s Home.

Newly launched Women’s Giving Circle awards first grants, gathers for program

Each organization explained its mission and how the funding would help fulfill its ministry. Members of the Giving Circle listened to each pitch and asked questions before voting on how to allocate the available funds.

“The newly founded Women’s Giving Circle has three important roles to support the important work of the Catholic Church across the Diocese of Cleveland,” said Diane Fusco, a founding member of the group.

“First is to expand our circle. Second is to collectively choose organizations to support and make decisions about the grants awarded to these organizations. And third is the ultimate role – to learn and spread the word about the good works of the Catholic Church in our diocese and the Catholic Community Foundation – to build our community of faith through strong and vibrant parishes, serve people in need through Catholic Charities and other Catholic organizations and to support Catholic education for all who desire it,” Fusco added.

The group selected winners in two categories: diocesan organizations and community organizations.

Winners in the diocesan organization group were Families of Promise, $15,000, Refugee Resource Center, $13,000 and Adoption and Family Services, $11,000.

Community organization winners were Zelie’s Home, $15,000, Joseph and Mary’s Home, $13,000 and Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, $11,000.

Maria Ruddock, a founding member of the Women’s Giving Circle, thanked all who came to the Pitch Party, participated in the organization and took time to consider and vote on the grant-seeking agencies, as well as the groups that sought funding, prepared pitches and offer contributions to the community.

After a brief break, the Giving Circle convened on June 6 at Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in Euclid to hear a presentation from Towey, who spoke about his unlikely relationship with Mother Teresa and how it changed his life. He has written a book about her, “To Love and be Loved: A Personal Portrait of Mother Teresa.” Towey also is the founder and CEO of Aging With Dignity, a nonprofit based in Florida with the mission of honoring “the God-given dignity of the most vulnerable among us.”

He explained to the women that Mother Teresa was a small person, but she made big and lasting impression with her ministry. Although she did not have children of her own, she was a mother, Towey said, and she touched countless people with her kindness. Motherhood is a crucial thing and when it isn’t recognized or is devalued by society, people suffer, he added.

“Women’s voices need to be heard,” Towey said.

He talked about how she recognized what people needed and was ready and willing to provide it, relying on God’s providence.

“When someone is dying, they want someone to be there with them, a gentle touch, someone to love them,” he said, noting that aging with dignity is important and something Mother Teresa herself experienced. As she got older and frailer, he said she allowed herself to be loved and sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious congregation she founded, were there to assist and love her in her final years and days. He referred to it as redemptive charity, something the Trinitarian sisters who operate Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine have as one of their charisms.

Newly launched Women’s Giving Circle awards first grants, gathers for program

There are people with needs everywhere, Towey told the group, reflecting on the poverty that abounds in Calcutta.

“Calcutta is everywhere. You don’t have to go to India,” he said, adding that Mother Teresa often was asked if she got discouraged. For every one person helped, 10 were left behind, he said.

“Her answer was that ‘God doesn’t call me to be successful, he calls me to be faithful.’ Mother said to love until it hurts and to give until it hurts. As women, you understand that,” Towey said.

During the question and answer session, Towey was asked how he encountered Mother Teresa.

“I was a 28-year-old phony Catholic picking and choosing which doctrines to follow before I met her,” he said. Their 1985 meeting was facilitated by U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Oregon), for whom Towey worked in Washington, D.C. Hatfield supported her work and when Towey asked if he could arrange a meeting while he was on a business trip, he did so. Their paths continued to cross for the last 12 years of Mother Teresa’s life.

When asked to describe her, Towey said, “She was purposeful and authentically in love with God and his people. She was focused, serious and cheerful. She was everything I wasn’t. I was lost and she saw that. I was in the right place at the right time.”

He talked about how he helped her as she was opening homes in the United States for those with AIDS. As a lawyer, he was able to help with some of the logistical and legal issues.

One woman asked if she had a favorite prayer. Towey said she prayed often and had several “regular” prayers, but there was always a rosary with her or in her hands. He said she also was a voracious reader.

“When the Missionaries of Charity would talk to a bishop about coming to his diocese, they did not ask for a salary, pension or benefits. But they insisted on a daily Mass and regular/weekly confession or they would not come. Often they got some property or an old convent to use,” he added. “They relied on God’s providence for everything else.”

He also noted that she had a sense of humor and did not like being photographed. “She used to say that every time her photo was taken, a soul got out of purgatory,” he quipped.

Towey had a request for the group.

“I’d like you to become her defenders,” he said. “There is an effort out there to attack all that is sacred.”

Towey said although he had a mother and prays for her daily, he considers Mother Teresa to be his spiritual mother. “She was tiny and she told me to pray this: ‘Jesus, use me without consulting me.’” He remembered this and prayed as he struggled through the loss of his twin sister to ALS.

Twenty-seven years after her death, Mother Teresa continues to inspire people, Towey said. “Tomorrow’s feast (solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – June 7) reminds us of this heart of mercy that beats in this world. With faith, we truly believe we’re going home to God and will be with him.”

Learn more about the Women’s Giving Circle here or contact Ozimek at 216-696-6525, Ext. 4070 or email

Read more about Towey and his presentation to the St. John the Evangelist Leadership Guild on June 5 here.

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