One Legacy Lights the Way for Others

Delora Mayer lived a solitary life. She died alone and left her entire estate to the Catholic Community Foundation (CCF). With no next of kin stepping forward, her remains were held at the Ramsey County morgue until the bank where her accounts were held contacted CCF.

“At the same time we were touched by her generosity, we were heartbroken that she had not yet been buried,” recalls CCF President Anne Cullen Miller. “Ensuring immediate Christian funeral rites and a Christian burial was our first priority — and something we as a Catholic organization were uniquely suited to do.”

A Gift Destined to Inspire Generosity

With Mayer laid to rest, CCF began considering ways to honor her life and generosity. In 2017, CCF launched a program called Partners for the Future that divided Mayer’s gift into matching grants of $25,000 that will be used to seed 15 new parish endowment funds over the next two years.

“Most parishes are so busy raising money to keep the lights on, they rarely think to ask parishioners to remember their church in their wills,” says CCF Director of Partner Relations Bill Marsella. “We hoped these matching grants would spark interest in parish endowment funds.”

Saint John Neumann: Seizing the Moment

St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Eagan, Minnesota, was the first parish to accept the challenge. Jean Gorell, a parishioner, understands the value of endowment funds. She had been working for several years with a committee of like-minded volunteers to launch an endowment fund. The $25,000 Delora Mayer Matching Grant came at an opportune moment.

Delora Mayer’s gravesite

“All the ingredients were in place,” remembers Gorell. “We were ready to launch the public appeal, but the matching grant really fueled our energy.”

According to Marsella, the team made a “full court press” that included articles in the church bulletin, an appeal delivered by Gorell at every Mass, and enthusiastic pastoral support.

As a result of their combined efforts, the parish was able to raise $27,400 in under six weeks. The St. John Neumann Catholic Church, Eagan MN Parish Endowment was established with a deposit of $52,400. A Mass recognizing the gift and the donor was held soon after.

“We’re very excited to have the fund set up and the systems in place to move forward,” says Gorell. “The fund will grow in perpetuity and provide a sustainable source of income into the future.”

Pax Christi: More than Matching Mayer’s Generosity

In the 37 years since its founding, Pax Christi Catholic Community has made 661 grants to over 200 organizations that work toward justice. As the parish’s Financial Initiatives Team (FIT) was preparing to approach the congregation about establishing a permanent endowment fund, they centered their case statement on justice.

“Justice outreach is integral to our identity,” says Mary Kennedy, Pax Christi’s director of stewardship and development. “Our case statement was about raising money to support the core values and mission of the Pax Christi Catholic Community forever.”

To ensure an impactful annual endowment distribution, the team set an ambitious financial goal. According to Kennedy, Mayer’s story was as much of an inspiration as the matching grant. “She became a challenge to us and our parishioners. We said, ‘Here’s a person, just like me, just like you in the pews. She never set foot in this parish, but her gift is going to change so many lives.'”

The FIT got feedback and fine- tuned their messaging by presenting their case to past FIT members, as well as members of the Stewardship and Finance Councils. They invited 90 members of the parish to one of six small gatherings held at various FIT member homes in May. At each of the gatherings, the host couple would tell their “Pax Christi” story and then invite each guest to share his or her story before asking for a contribution to the endowment.

Those meetings helped the FIT raise the funds to meet the matching grant even before introducing the plan to the parish as a whole on Pentecost Sunday. Thanks to contributions from parishioners and proceeds from the sale of property, the Pax Christi Community Endowment Fund was established on June 30, 2017, with a deposit that exceeded the FIT’s ambitious goal.

“The whole beauty of the way the Catholic Community Foundation is using the Delora Meyer gift is that it allows parishes to get the endowment off the ground,” says Kennedy. “Our gratitude for her generosity will live on in perpetuity.”

View More Stories