Catholics finding a reason for generosity

John Mauriel and his wife MaryAnne, like many people, receive lots of solicitations to support Catholic and secular causes. 

“Many of them have wonderful stories and good intentions, and it’s hard to sort them out,” he said. “We turn down some very good organizations that are doing wonderful work because we want to be able to give enough to make a difference. So we tend to support more smaller organizations.” 

Mauriel, who taught in the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, supports Catholic education and after school programs for disadvantaged youth in the Minneapolis area. They also support a homeless shelter, their parish ministries and their diocesan foundation. 

“My biggest interests are in the problems we face in society,” MaryAnne Mauriel said, and for her that’s not just offering financial support. “It’s easy to write a check, but you have to give of yourself, too.” 

Coming from a background in art history, she supports local arts communities, including one that sends visiting artists and musicians to schools to promote culture and nurture the discovery and development of talents. She also supports programs for African Americans, social outreaches in schools and educating young mothers to make good decisions. 

“The hardest thing is trying to narrow things down and being more focused on issues and who to give to,” she said. “We also have a small foundation of our own, the Mauriel Family Foundation, where we can control a lot of our gifting.” 

Preparing next generation

Al Adam Wolf of Bismarck, N.D., is the youngest of 11 children of Russian immigrant farmers. 

The Hilliards

In his early years, he attended a country school with six students and was encouraged by his parents to take his education seriously. He did. 

At 80, Wolf is still a practicing attorney, and he and his wife Karen are passionate about their philanthropy. They support St. Mary’s Central Catholic High School in Bismarck, where Karen and their three daughters attended, and were active in its music and arts programs. They contribute to scholarships there and at the University of Mary and provided the lead grant for a campus residence for men and women who are interested in vocations. It is also the residence of the diocese’s retired Bishop Paul A. Zipfel. 

“What drives me to support education is that in order to be good Catholics, you have to be effective and communicative Catholics who can engage others to be the people they should be in their communities,” Wolf said. “I also support Catholic education to prepare young people for what we don’t know is coming. Education is something you can give them that you can’t take away. With the right focus and proper order of their own support systems, they can survive disasters, tough times and setbacks and still be good, confident Americans and good Catholics if they have an education.” 

Wolf supports vocations programs in the Diocese of Bismarck and in the Serra Club, where he is an officer and has been a member for 45 years. The couple also donate to a Benedictine abbey, plus God’s Child Project that helps street kids in Guatemala. 

Faith in action

Stephen Hilliard is the director of strategic planning and interim director of stewardship and development in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. 

“We support our local parish and the diocese,” he said. “That’s a given. We are also called to live our faith through action, involvement and participation.” 

Hilliard has 15 years of Catholic education and their three children went to Catholic schools for all 12 years. 

His wife, Diana, grew up in an area without Catholic schools, but she shares his passion for supporting Catholic education. 

“We like the idea of formation, not just education. Catholic schools are great partners with parents,” he said. “Another area that is near and dear to our hearts is serving the poor. We try to be involved actively, whether it’s in a food kitchen or some other social service type of activity. And we have a great group of friends who help us to assist in other areas of the city beyond our parish.” 

Hilliard is involved with the Boy Scouts of America, is a trustee of the local public library, and is on the board of Alpha Point, which serves low vision and blind individuals. 

“I give a lot of credit to some of our pastors over the years for helping us to understand the meaning of stewardship,” he said. “I also give credit to fellow parishioners and associates for helping me to learn this.” 

Hilliard calls stewardship “a lifelong journey” of living out faith. 

“Every Sunday the Mass instills in us Christ’s love that is intended to be expressed through action,” he said. “So I take it as a fact when the priest tells us to go forth. He is telling us to go back into the world and take back what we are given. To me, that’s a natural outgrowth of our sincere attempt to be faithful to the Lord and all that he has given us.” 

All God’s creatures

Kristina Biondolillo is a cardiovascular perfusionist in the heart and lung transplant department of the Heart and Vascular Institute of Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. 

“I put people on the heart and lung machine and actually stop their hearts intentionally, and restart their hearts, hopefully,” she said. 

Kristina Biondolillo
The Penacolas

So it’s not surprising that in addition to supporting her parish, she supports the American Heart Association and Life Bank, an organ donation organization. But in 2004, she was drawn to another call to action— rescuing dogs that have been severely neglected and abused in commercial kennels and puppy mills. She learned about their plight when she met a reputable breeder who had several rescued Pomeranians. Biondolillo brought two home and one of them, Marilyn, had been cruelly debarked, and soon died from complications. 

Biondolillo founded and serves as unpaid executive director of Marilyn’s Voice, Inc., which provides rescues, volunteer foster homes, and education about the horrific conditions of puppy mills. 

“I’m criticized from time to time for helping dogs instead of people,” she said. “I understand that people need help, but in my heart, I am feeling drawn to helping animals. They are God’s creatures, and I feel that the Lord Jesus Christ wants all his animals treated with love.” 

Biondolillo, who is married and has an infant son, prays to St. Francis and St. Anthony for guidance and protection before peaceful protests. She respects what dogs provide to people in companionship to the lonely and the ill, and the growing needs of trained canine service to physically, cognitively and emotionally handicapped individuals. She also sees the positive impact that helping animals has on children. 

Students in several local elementary schools raise money for Marilyn’s Voice by making and selling toys for pets and scarves for people. Two classes recently raised over $3,200. 

“It’s important that children look beyond themselves and see that there are animals and others in need,” Biondolillo said. “They learn kindness and caring, and that this is just one of the things that they can do to change the world.” 

Drawing men to church

Jim Pencola, an equipment maintenance supervisor for a gas drilling company, has payroll deductions earmarked for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Greensburg, Pa. 

“It’s a way to do what we are called to do by the Church, to help the poor,” he said. “We don’t physically go out to help the poor that much ourselves, so we donate toward it.” 

But Pencola and his wife Denise, a dental assistant, financially support and are actively involved in ministries that advance the life of the Church. He organized the Catholic Men’s Fellowship group that meets at Good Shepherd Parish in Kent, near their home in Avonmore, and she is diocesan president of the National Council of Catholic Women. 

“I feel very strongly about the men’s movement,” Jim Pencola said. “We need to get men back into the Church, and the Catholic Men’s Fellowship is getting men excited about their faith. I also support The King’s Men, who do a lot to close down pornographic places.” 

Denise Pencola is involved in the council’s support of Catholic Relief Services and hunger programs, and advocacy in the matters of peace, reconciliation, domestic violence, female refugees and education and spiritual enrichment programs for women in the United States and abroad. 

“The men’s groups and women’s groups strengthen the body of Christ,” she said. “They keep us united, help us to grow and to educate one another because we are stronger in numbers.” 

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

Read more from the charitable giving special section:

The science and art of practical philanthropy 

From the neighborhood to ends of the world