A home for the poor in Sarajevo run by the Sister Servants of the Baby Jesus.
A high school in Ethiopia. A hospital in Bosnia. A school for professional carpenters in Tiblisi.
Those are just a few of the papal projects funded by a little known apostolate known as the Papal Foundation.
Justin Cardinal Rigali, along with William Cardinal Keeler (Baltimore) and Theodore Cardinal McCarrick (Washington), met July 1 with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the work of the Foundation, which is so important to the Catholic Church.
“The Papal Foundation is deeply appreciated by the pope, who sends his blessings to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” said Cardinal Rigali, who had a private audience with the pope prior to the meeting.
Executive Director Jim Coffey said the Foundation was started in 1988 by John Cardinal Krol right here in Philadelphia. Barbara Martino, a member of the development committee, explained the Foundation’s mission: “It started out, in that period of time, because there was a Vatican deficit, and they were trying to rectify that situation. Msgr. Tom Benestead was the first executive director. All the American cardinals are trustees. There is an executive committee composed of laity and clergy, and there are the various committees.”
Within the Foundation, a group called Stewards of St. Peter give $1 million, but gifts of any amount are appreciated.
Finally, the deficit was eliminated. Today, the Foundation raises money for projects that can’t be covered by the Vatican budget.
“The Holy Father submits these projects to the Papal Foundation, and the Executive Committee decides which they are going to fund by the amount of money they could give,” Martino said. “They always give the interest on their investments, so it depends on how many members we have.”
“The Papal Foundation is a US organization, and the funds are invested here,” she said. “All are worthy projects, but which are most imperative? We started out giving the Holy Father maybe $1 million or so. Now, it’s more than $3 million annually.”
Occasionally, maybe once or twice a year, money flows to US projects but since the money goes where there is the greatest need, it generally goes elsewhere.
One of Coffey’s favorite programs is the John Paul II Scholarship program.
“Priests and sisters from many third world countries study in Pontifical Universities, then return to teach in their home countries,” Coffey explained. “We hope this will help them lead the Church there.”
One of the highlights for Foundation members is their yearly trip usually in the spring to Rome for a private audience with the pope, Coffey said.
The members also meet annually at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC, for a three-day event that includes a board meeting, dinner at the embassy, speakers and faith-enriching events.
Chairmen have included Cardinals Krol, John O’Connor and Anthony Bevilacqua, who is the current chair. Cardinal Keeler is Vice Chair. Cardinal McCarrick was the first president, and he remains president.
For about five years, Father Milton Jordan of the Washington Archdiocese worked with Msgr. Benestead to increase the Foundation’s membership.
When Msgr. Benestead returned to the Diocese of Allentown, Father Jordan took the helm.
“He did a tremendous job,” Martino said. “He brought in 23 members, so he deserves a lot of credit.”
However, he was recalled to Maryland in 2003, so the very able Coffey was brought in. He, too, has done a marvelous job.
Of the 60 or so members, 12 Stewards of St. Peter are from the Philadelphia area.
“Not much is [made] known to the general public,” Martino said. “A lot of people are private, and don’t want their generosity to be necessarily known.”
However, Coffey said, their generosity is known to the One who rewards us all in His own time.
(To contact the author, Michelle Johnson, please email or call her at 215-587-3698.)