As a young student at St. Martin of Tours School in Los Angeles, Kathleen Aikenhead was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, whom she believes helped provide the initial spark to what has become her life-long commitment to philanthropy.
Under her 21-year leadership as president of the William H. Hannon Foundation (which was founded by her late uncle), Aikenhead and her board of directors have been instrumental in providing generous annual grants for hospitals, social service organizations, Catholic schools and churches, and for religious congregations.
“We try to follow my uncle’s mission very closely, and one of his main goals was always to support the sisters,” she said with a smile. “He just loved the sisters.”
For these and many other contributions to Catholic ministries and organizations, Aikenhead was honored alongside Timothy and Steph Busch, long-time advocates of Catholic education, as recipients of the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Award at the 2014 Support Our Aging Religious (SOAR!) Liturgy and Awards Dinner, held June 22 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
SOAR! also honored the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation with the Saint Katherine Drexel Award, which recognizes significant national-scale contributions to the church, particularly to men and women religious. Proceeds from the annual dinner will support the organization’s nearly 30-year mission. Established in 1986, SOAR! is a national not-for-profit committed to providing financial grants to help aging religious sisters, brothers and priests in congregations across the country.
“Our religious sisters and brothers are living the life of Christ — it is a beautiful vocation,” said Archbishop José Gomez during his homily. He described religious community members as “gifts” to the church, noting that they help support “the apostolic mission that we have in the church to spread the Gospel.”
At the recent awards dinner, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Kathleen Lunsmann, president of SOAR!, expressed her gratitude to all SOAR! benefactors, telling The Tidings, “It is only through their generosity that we’re able to help so many of our aging religious.” Their primary goal, she explained, is to provide need-based assistance to “allow the sisters [and brothers] to continue to live in community as they age, to make their lives a little bit easier, and make sure that they age with dignity and grace.”
Every year congregations submit applications for specific projects, such as installing a ramp or making bathrooms or dining rooms handicap accessible. In May the organization’s board of directors approved grants for 2014 which total a combined $1.2 million in funding to 65 congregations from18 states and Puerto Rico. The average age of the aging religious helped by the grants is 82.
Local recipients of the 2014 SOAR! grants include: the Guadalupan Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, Los Angeles (for accessibility renovations of building and outdoor areas); the Daughters of Mary and Joseph, Rancho Palos Verdes (for accessibility renovations of dining area); the Sisters of Notre Dame, Thousand Oaks (for handicap accessible dining room tables and chairs); and Carmel of St. Teresa of Los Angeles (Discalced Carmelite Nuns), Alhambra (for water pipe replacement).
“I have supported SOAR! for many years; it’s a great cause because we have to take care of our sisters; they don’t have funding,” said Timothy Busch, CEO and principal shareholder of The Busch Firm, an Irvine law firm. Among their many accomplishments, Busch and his wife have founded private Catholic elementary and high schools in Laguna Niguel and San Juan Capistrano, and have long supported Carmelites, Dominicans and other religious communities.
“I was educated by Dominican sisters back in Michigan, so I’m a product of Catholic education, and, more importantly, of the sisters themselves,” he told The Tidings. “We really support them. My wife and I love all the sisters.”
To learn more about SOAR!, visit www.soar-usa.org.