Notre Dame College Joins, Inspires Caring Hearts at InnerCitySaints Ceremony

The Notre Dame College InnerCitySaints Award ceremony empowered more than 250 members of Northeast Ohio corporate, social service, church and education communities to come together to celebrate the Rev. James P. O’Donnell and his lifetime of ministry among the poor in Cleveland—and help those in need at Notre Dame.

The College’s signature award recognizing the selflessness of those who are transforming and bringing hope to local inner-urban areas was bestowed in 2017 to O’Donnell, a Catholic priest and cofounder of Little Brothers and Sisters for the Eucharist in the Cleveland Central neighborhood, “for the work of God that is your life,” according to Notre Dame President Thomas G. Kruczek. 

The annual InnerCitySaints program is the primary fundraiser for the College’s Caring Hearts Fund, which provides emergency grants to students who may not have adequate family support or resources to address unexpected circumstances, including critical needs for food, housing, transportation and medical care.

“For your support of those who, on the verge of hopelessness, are blessed to find you,” Kruczek said in presenting the award to O’Donnell. “We could not have made a better choice. You have set the bar high for any who may follow you.”

For those who would not be able to have an education

For nearly 40 years, O’Donnell has lived and served in the Central community where three-fourths of children grow up in poverty and more than two-thirds of residents have dwelled in publicly subsidized housing. Through the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist ministry of presence, O’Donnell has helped lead volunteer efforts to establish streets with homes and build a playground, a community garden and a neighborhood park.

“We are deeply, deeply grateful for the presence of all of you here today,” O’Donnell said in accepting the honor. “And above all, our gifts of coming together will help people who would not be able to have an education go to Notre Dame College.”

O’Donnell was presented the award at a sold-out luncheon in the main ballroom of the Tudor Arms Hotel in Cleveland’s University Circle. 

For always answering the call of the marginalized

In introducing O’Donnell to the assembly, James Conrad, who has worked with the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist for more than 20 years, chronicled the priest’s more than five total decades of service to the poor and disabled with repeated references to a Bible passage, Genesis 27:21.

Conrad heralded O’Donnell—and the Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist who minister from their Visitation Home in the Central neighborhood—for “always answering the call of the marginalized in the community to come closer so that I might touch you.”

“And came they did, from the suburbs and from Akron and Canton … to share in a meal and the Eucharist,” Conrad said. “Those from the inner city and those from the suburbs were both touched.”

A Diocesan priest ordained in 1965, O’Donnell co-founded the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist in the Central community in 1980 with Sr. Maggie Walsh-Conrad, consecrated religious of the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist. O’Donnell shared the InnerCitySaints Award with Walsh-Conrad, calling her to the stage with a familiar adage.

“Everyone knows behind every great man is a great woman,” he said.

O’Donnell, with the brother and sister duo of the Conrads and others through the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist Visitation Home, have served as foster family to as many as 15 children in the Central community.

For being present with people whatever their needs

The InnerCitySaints event, which was sponsored by KeyBank, WKYC, Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, the Sisters of Notre Dame and Rich and Robbin Garcia, also featured an address by John Prendergast, a global human rights activist who has worked for more than 30 years to end mass atrocities, particularly in Africa.

“He is a very inspirational human being .He has blazed such a bright trail, a decades-long emphasis on being present with people in need,” Prendergast said of the honoree. “It’s overwhelming … I can’t even count how many years you’ve been there, whatever their needs are.”

Former director for African affairs of the White House National Security Council and a perennial mentor with the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program, Prendergast recognized O’Donnell and the ministry of presence in Cleveland as consummate to his own ongoing efforts at “being proximate.”

Prendergast has spent decades “listening and understanding just causes” working among children without parents in his hometown of Washington, D.C. as well as in international war zones, famine-stricken countries and global refugee camps in Africa.

“We’re not special, but we’re proximate. We’re present,” Prendergast said. “Just keep showing up, that’s all we have to do. That’s all God asks us to do. That’s our role in life.”

For leading among other ministries

O’Donnell is the second recipient of the Notre Dame InnerCitySaints Award. He was joined on stage during the program by Sr. Rita Mary Harwood, SND, who accepted the inaugural honor last year for her work leading, among other ministries, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Ministry to the Incarcerated.

Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity also joined in recognizing O’Donnell during the Notre Dame InnerCitySaints ceremony. Represented by Jessica Morrison, family programs manager, and Kimberly Pride, volunteer manager, the organization presented this year’s honoree with a certification of appreciation for helping create homes for 250 families and more than 800 children in inner-urban communities, particularly the Cleveland Central neighborhood.

Along with developing the Central community, O’Donnell and the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist minister at the local juvenile detention center, the women's prison, faith and sharing retreats and the Oasis Prayer Center as well as neighborhood visitation and hospitality to those who come to the house.

Former bishop of the Cleveland Diocese, the Rev. Roger W. Gries provided the invocation at Notre Dame’s InnerCitySaints Award event. The program was hosted by Russ Mitchell from WKYC-TV3, the NBC network affiliate in Cleveland.

For students who face unforeseen hardships

In addition to the support of presenting sponsors for the 2017 ceremony, Inner City Patrons for the event were Phillip and Linda Catanzaro, Dan Conway, The Conway Family Foundation, Jane Cunin, Jeannie Gallagher, Stella Hetzer, Jones Day, Musca Family Charitable Fund and Jack Myslenski. Caring Angel benefactors included Boys Hope Girls Hope, Ann Coakley, Famicos Foundation, Gesu Parish & School, Chester and Carol Glitz, Ann Hawkins, Kevin Hinkel, M. Joan McCarthy, Magnificant High School, Raymond and Katie Murphy, Saint Martin de Porres High School and Mark and Shawna Whitlock.

Proceeds from the InnerCitySaints Award Luncheon directly benefit the College’s Caring Hearts Fund, which provides limited emergency funding to students who face unforeseen financial, physical or emotional hardship during the academic year.

Caring Hearts funds are not intended to replace or supplement existing financial aid. Enrolled students are eligible on a case-by-case basis and when other possible resources have been exhausted. The grants are not considered loans and are not required to be returned.

The number of students who can be served by the Caring Hearts Fund is subject to the availability of funds, which are all provided through the generosity of philanthropic support. As it continues to grow, the Caring Hearts Fund will become an endowed source of support for students in extreme need.

November 2017

About Notre Dame College

For almost a century, Notre Dame College has educated a diverse population in the liberal arts for personal, professional and global responsibility. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College has grown strategically to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of students and the dramatic changes in higher education. But it has never lost sight of its emphasis on teaching students not only how to make a good living but also how to live a good life.

Today, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master's degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. Notre Dame College offers NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletic programs for men and women and is located in a picturesque residential neighborhood just 25 minutes from the heart of Cleveland. Hallmarks of the Notre Dame experience include stimulating academics, personalized attention of dedicated faculty and staff, and small class sizes.

Notre Dame College is located at 4545 College Road in South Euclid. For further information contact Brian Johnston, chief communications officer, at 216.373.5252 or


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