Nine charities and organizations to benefit from teacher’s gift

Mary Alice Lawler taught fourth-grade at Our Lady of Lourdes School for 42 years. In this 2005 file photo, she and other educators were recognized at a parish Mass. Lawler died last year and left more than $7 million to nine organizations in the Archdiocese of Louisville and beyond. (Record File Photo)

Just as the late Mary Alice Lawler guided and nurtured classrooms of fourth-graders for more than four decades, about 35 children — equivalent to a classroom of students — will be supported by the Catholic Education Foundation each year in perpetuity thanks to her generosity.

The Mary Alice Lawler Memorial Endowment, managed by the CEF, was made possible by a bequest from the estate of Mary Alice Lawler, who taught fourth-grade at Our Lady of Lourdes School for 42 years.

Rich Lechleiter, president of the CEF, said the endowment is a fitting tribute to a woman who dedicated her life to Catholic education.

She left more than $7 million — much of it money she inherited — to nine charities and organizations in the Archdiocese of Louisville and beyond when she died in August. Each entity received $645,000 earlier this year and expects to receive approximately $100,000 more when the estate is finalized.

The other beneficiaries are the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Mattingly Edge (formerly known as the Cerebral Palsy School of Louisville), Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Sister Visitor Center, St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, Our Lady of Lourdes School, St. Raphael Church, Assumption High School and Mercy Academy.

Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, chief administrative officer of the Archdiocese of Louisville, said a gift such as Lawler’s is an example of a grateful heart transforming into a generous steward.

“People who are grateful are also people who are generous. When we talk about people being generous it’s most often because they are grateful for what they’ve been given,” he said.

Reynolds said Lawler’s generosity can be a lesson for all people.

“Even someone with lesser means than Ms. Lawler can still identify something they’d like to see carry on beyond their own life,” he said. “That can be part of our expression of faith.”

The eight other organizations to receive a bequest from the Lawler estate are:

 

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul will put funds from the Lawler gift toward new campus programs it launched last year, including an initiative for survivors of domestic abuse, said Ed Wnorowski, executive director and CEO of St. Vincent de Paul.

“This generous gift came at a very opportune time. Because of the shut down of the thrift stores, we had a huge loss in revenue last year,” Wnorowski said. “This will allow us to breathe a deep sigh of relief to get us through COVID, to be able to do additional good works in the community.”

 

The Cerebral Palsy School of Louisville (later named the Mattingly Center and now called Mattingly Edge) plans to use the gift to further its mission to serve adults with disabilities, said Hope Leet Dittmeier, the organization’s executive director.

The Cerebral Palsy School of Louisville was started in 1950 by the Sisters of Mercy and served as one of the city’s first special needs schools. It operated in the basement of the old St. Aloysius School on Payne Street.

Today, Mattingly Edge “supports people with disabilities to pursue a career, own or rent a home, contribute to their local community and enjoy a strong social network,” Dittmeier said.

 

Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Sister Visitor Center, which serves people in the Russell, Portland and Shawnee neighborhoods in West Louisville, will use the bequest to support the salaries of about three to five staff members, said Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, CEO of Catholic Charities.

The center has recently expanded services at the center, specifically improving access to food. Several new staff members have been hired, including a food pantry coordinator, a SNAP benefits coordinator, an assistant director and a part-time receptionist, in order to meet the needs of the clients they serve.

“Individual supporters have been the lifeblood of SVC. Those folks have been incredibly dedicated, but like Ms. Lawler, many of them are passing away. This gift will enable us to make necessary changes to the way we provide services at SVC,” DeJaco Crutcher said.

 

St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology will use the funds from the Lawler estate to “continue the many works of St. Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology,” said Mary Jeanne Schumacher, director of communications at St. Meinrad.

“Ms. Lawler’s generous gift will be used to sustain and expand our programs and help ensure that they continue for many years. We are most grateful that her commitment to her faith and education motivated her to make such generous gifts,” Schumacher said.

Lawler’s great uncle Proctor Knott Brenner, known as Father Henry Brenner, was a Benedictine monk at St. Meinrad. He served as the first oblate director at St. Meinrad and also as the novice master for about 35 years. He died in 1967.

 

Our Lady of Lourdes School doesn’t have a set plan for the Lawler gift at this time, said Gregory DuPont, the parish director, though it is considering an endowment “where smaller gifts can be used for scholarships that will last a long period of time.”

“We know that she valued education and loved her students, so we will not use the money for facility upgrades,” DuPont said.

Another possible avenue for the gift is to fund specific educational programs at the school, said Jeff Beavin, school principal.

“Our early reading program has made a colossal difference for our younger students. A math program could be similarly effective,” Beavin said.

 

St. Raphael Church will use the gift to further the mission of the parish school, said Father Shayne Duvall, pastor of St. Raphael.

“Since Mary Alice was a Catholic school teacher for so many decades, we thought it would be best to focus our attention on classroom and building renovations and improvements,” said Father Duvall. “We have already begun this effort, but thanks to Ms. Lawler’s generosity, we will be able to do so much more and much sooner, without the need to fundraise.”

Lawler joined St. Raphael in 1988 and attended Mass every weekend, said Father Duvall.

“She was always smiling, always wanting to know how I was doing and was just a genuinely kind and sweet person,” he said.

 

Assumption High School will put the Lawler gift toward the school’s $8 million capital campaign — $6 million of which is designated for expansion growth and $2 million to grow the endowment.

“Her gift will be designated toward this initiative to have a lasting impact,” said Michelle Farmer, executive director of advancement at Assumption.

“Her gift will impact young women attending Assumption for years to come. We will also be naming a classroom in her honor, so that our AHS community is reminded of her generosity and that she will know in spirit how meaningful and impactful her gift was to us,” Farmer said.

Lawler was a 1960 alumnae of the all-girls school. Her aunt was Sister of Mercy Marie Therese Lawler who taught at Assumption and Mercy and other schools operated by the Sisters of Mercy. She died in 1978.

 

Mercy Academy will invest the gift in the school’s endowment and be used for tuition assistance, said Leslie Hibdon, director of advancement at Mercy.

“Currently, 51% of Mercy’s student body receives tuition assistance. Mary Alice’s transformational gift will allow Mercy to continue this level of support for generations to come,” Hibdon said.

In addition to the legacy of her remarkable donation, Lawler “truly did God’s work as a Catholic school teacher while she was on Earth,” Hibdon said.

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