Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Allison Shirreffs
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the annual Deo Gratias Mass Aug. 26 at Holy Spirit Church. He told the members of the Deo Gratias Society, who have plans to make gifts from their wills or estate plans to the Catholic Foundation, that their "giving affects thousands of people."


At Deo Gratias Mass, the Catholic Foundation marks 25 years of giving

By CATHY WEAVER BISCAN, Special to the Bulletin | Published September 21, 2017

ATLANTA—“How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?”

This passage from the Book of Psalms appears in the brochure of the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia, challenging Catholics in the Archdiocese of Atlanta to ponder the tangible ways in which they can give back to their church.

The annual Deo Gratias Mass and luncheon, held this year on Aug. 26 at Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, marked the 25th anniversary of the Catholic Foundation. The words “deo gratias” mean “thanks be to God,” and in that spirit the day was set aside to celebrate and honor those who have made a commitment to give in support of the archdiocese or one of its many ministries.

During the Mass in the Holy Spirit chapel, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory reminded the congregation of words from the first reading from the Book of Ruth, “Like Ruth, we are woven into God’s design … his pattern of redemption. God fashions our future using threads we never thought possible.”

The archbishop said, “Our futures are in God’s hands. We are given meaning and direction using people and circumstances we’d never envisioned.”

Archbishop Gregory closed the Mass with the blessing of pins, later to be awarded to the new members of the Deo Gratias Society at the luncheon.

The Deo Gratias Society is comprised of over 370 individuals, couples and families who have made plans to make gifts from their wills or estate plans to the Catholic Foundation, their parish, a Catholic school or another ministry in the archdiocese.

The assets of the foundation have grown from about $5 million in June 1997 to a little more than $63 million in June 2017. In 1997, the Catholic Foundation managed seven endowment funds. Now there are some 250 endowments, donor-advised funds and charitable gift annuities, all of which support ministries or schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. In this growth of assets, the foundation has impacted everything from youth ministry programs to Catholic schools to parish endowment funds.

In addition to managing the endowment funds that benefit all of the parishes, archdiocesan Catholic schools, and other Catholic schools and nonprofits in the archdiocese, the Catholic Foundation provides grants in the community. During this past fiscal year, the foundation provided more than $1.3 million in competitive grants, donor-advised fund grants and endowment distributions. This money helped provide shelter for the homeless, scholarships at Catholic schools, food for local charities, care for retired clergy, education of future priests and religious education for children at local churches.

A new honoree’s story

Cheryl Hardt, one of the new Deo Gratias honorees and a staff member at the Catholic Foundation, has attended St. Patrick Church in Norcross for over 20 years, where she is an active member of the women’s guild. Her career history includes working in the CNN control room, volunteering, fundraising and donor relations. She now serves as manager of communications and development operations at the foundation.

“I enjoy what I do in my field, and this is a good way for a lay person to work for the church,” she said.

“A lot of what we do is help folks understand they can give to a parish endowment fund. They can support the parish forever because it builds with other gifts and just keeps going,” Hardt explained.

She has named the Catholic Foundation and St Patrick’s endowment fund as recipients after her death. Hardt went to a Catholic grade school in the North that has since closed its doors.

She said, “Maybe they could have survived if they’d had an endowment for their school. The closings happened all over the North.”

Hardt now belongs to a culturally diverse parish. “Not the richest,” she said.

When asked why she is contributing, Hardt said, “Because I can.”

She hopes that others in her parish will follow her lead in leaving a little something for the parish they love.

“It is obvious that Cheryl’s Catholic faith and her parish mean a great deal to her,” said Nancy Coveny, executive director of the Catholic Foundation.

The founders speak

The luncheon in the parish hall was hosted by Msgr. Edward Dillon, pastor of Holy Spirit Church. Msgr. Dillon, along with Mike Trapp, the first chair of the Catholic Foundation’s board of directors, were the keynote speakers, who shared the purpose and history of the Catholic Foundation, as well as their personal passion contributing to the foundation both monetarily and with countless hours of hard work.

Msgr. Edward Dillon, pastor of Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, and one of the founders of the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia, reminisces about the foundation’s inception at the Deo Gratias luncheon Aug. 26. Photo By Allison Shirreffs

Msgr. Dillon, one of the key players in getting the foundation up and running, explained the organization’s humble beginnings.

He said, “Back in the 1980s, Protestant and evangelical churches had strong foundations in place, but Catholics did not. We got a group of businessmen together. At the time, we were a young diocese—started in 1956—yet we thought it could possibly be doable. Archbishop (James P.) Lyke enthusiastically signed off on the proposal for the foundation.”

Trapp and his wife, Shirley, founding members, were also instrumental in the beginning. Trapp chaired the board and they as a couple gave in the beginning as members of the Founders Society.

This year, the couple created an endowment fund to support the work of the Catholic Foundation, and upon their deaths, they plan to leave a significant gift from their estate to the endowment to help with “running this organization so it can do its job.”

The foundation itself benefits directly from the Trapps’ generosity. The Catholic Foundation has an efficient and hardworking, yet small, staff, and the organization relies on the assistance of a “very active board” and many volunteers, who work behind the scenes, said Coveny.

Trapp said, “I am deeply Catholic, and I want to support Catholic things. I believe in the CF model and that’s why I can’t think of a better organization to support.”

Coveny added that the Catholic Foundation helps every entity in the archdiocese.

Speaking of Msgr. Dillon, Trapp said, “He is one of the best fundraisers I know because he deeply believes in the product—the reason why you should give—so he’s able to sell that. He is a good persuader and has great relationships with people.”

Msgr. Dillon gave his personal money to start the endowment fund for Holy Spirit Church, and he encourages his parishioners to make plans to give to the endowment.

Beginning in 1992, Archbishop Lyke and Msgr. Dillon raised money through people who formed the Founders Society, who gave in the early years to lay the groundwork for the foundation. Archbishop Lyke died that December of cancer.

The foundation struggled in the years following, being on “life support” as Msgr. Dillon explained, while the archdiocese was focused on other things like building new Catholic schools. Nevertheless, the Catholic Foundation remained a powerful organization that managed to give away $2 million in the first 10 years.

In 2007, Msgr. Dillon wrote a letter to Archbishop Gregory, asking for more support, and the archbishop was enthusiastic about supporting the foundation.

“The archbishop is a good businessman,” Msgr. Dillon said.

According to Trapp, Archbishop Gregory immediately committed himself and his resources to reenergize the Catholic Foundation with a challenge to “do better.”

“And one of the ways CF did do better was to hire Nancy Coveny,” Trapp said.

In 2008, a search committee was gathered and Coveny was hired. This is Coveny’s ninth year as executive director.

Much of Coveny’s career background has been in management positions in the nonprofit arena, serving people in need and the homeless, including Buckhead Christian Ministry, HomeStretch, and Catholic Social Services. She has enjoyed the challenges of building the Catholic Foundation in order to provide more assistance to those doing ministry in the archdiocese.

Coveny explained, “The foundation exists to help families and individuals pass along their Catholic heritage and values for future generations.”

“God’s work is real. It is evident in those of you who are gathered here today. It is always a joy to host Deo Gratias,” she said to those gathered for the Deo Gratias luncheon. “We get to celebrate the generosity and the Catholic faith of the donors.”

The members of the Deo Gratias Society were also reminded, as the archbishop spoke to them in his homily during the Mass, of the impact they have made.

“I never imagined it would grow this way,” he said. “Your giving affects thousands of people. Your gifts … your faith are used to lay a foundation for the future—a future we believe will be blessed. God will use us in ways we never would have envisioned. Thank you.”

For more information about the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia, please visit the website at