‘Light of Hope’ shines brightly at Catholic Charities dinner

By: By Tom Dermody

A Major League Baseball coach known for guiding runners to home plate helped direct the generosity of hundreds toward Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria at the agency’s annual “Light of Hope” dinner on June 12.

“We’re here tonight to help people to give back,” said Rich Donnelly, a coach for more than 25 years in an emotional appeal that recalled life lessons he learned from his daughter Amy, who died of a brain tumor at the age of 17.

And the dinner patrons and sponsors followed the coach’s direction well. Their generosity helped net more than $90,000 for the mission of Catholic Charities.

“I cannot thank you enough,” said Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, in welcoming remarks to those who filled the ballroom at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. The annual dinner and auction is the major celebration of Catholic Charities Month, observed throughout the diocese in June.

Saying Catholic Charities shows God’s love by serving those in need, the bishop stressed that despite the difficult economic times “our local church will never neglect serving Christ in our neighbor.”

“I am excited about the future of this organization,” he said.

Moments later, Bishop Jenky was back on stage to inspire giving with a performance that called to mind football, not baseball. The bishop — a trustee at the University of Notre Dame and former rector of the basilica there — had donated two Notre Dame football tickets to the auction. At the request of auctioneer Dean Hild, Bishop Jenky sang an enthusiastic rendition of the Notre Dame fight song that drew loud cheers and fetched more than $800 for the pair of tickets.

Baseball, however, was a recurring theme of this evening. At each place setting was a baseball-like trading card. But instead of picturing and telling the story of an athlete, the cards introduced staff members or volunteers with Catholic Charities and the clients they serve.

“With the help of Catholic Charities, I got a second chance in life,” wrote a client who described her addiction to alcohol on one of the cards. “I now have a newfound sense of hope and thank God every day for my counselor, Carolyn.”

Meanwhile, Rich Donnelly thanks God every day for the lessons he learned from his late daughter.

“She wanted to be a teacher,” he said of Amy, who died in 1993. “She was the greatest teacher I ever had. She was a gift from the Lord.”

Raised a devout Catholic, Donnelly said he had allowed his ego to guide his life instead of Christ.

“I thought I was tough,” he told the group. “You think you’re tough? Walk into a hospital room where your daughter’s in a coma and you’ve gotta tell her goodbye. It buckles you.”

He returned to an enthusiastic practice of the faith, and has dedicated his life to “try to do the things Amy showed me,” including being generous. He told the story how, after Amy’s death, he found an envelope in his daughter’s desk containing a $750 check and directing her Dad to use it to buy red wagons for the children in the hospital that treated her.

“Everything we have in our life, starting at birth, we have been given,” said Donnelly, who has also coached with the Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Los Angeles Dodgers. He called what Catholic Charities does for its 30,000 annual clients of all faiths in the Diocese of Peoria “incredible.”

Serving as emcees for the evening were Matt Jones and Sandy Gallant, who also chaired the event’s steering committee. Attendees were greeted by the photo exhibit “Fighting for the Forgotten,” featuring poster-sized images of award-winning photographs designed to “engage all people of good will in acting to reduce poverty.” The display is co-sponsored by Catholic Charities USA and AmericanPoverty.org.

In a closing prayer, Msgr. Douglas Hennessy, president of the Catholic Charities board of directors, noted that Catholic Charities USA is celebrating its 100th anniversary and asked God to “deepen our commitment to serve those most in need.”

SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
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