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International Day at Cleveland State University; 2017 InnerCitySaints Award luncheon

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On Thursday, November 16th, we started our day by going to the Atrium at CSU to see what was taking place at "International Day" organized in part by Ms. Rita Kizys and Mr. Roberto Oliveira from the "Center for International Services and Programs" which would consist of tabling by international student organizations, some ethnic foods and dances, and, of course, music provided by our good friend, DJ Kris Koch.

Not everyone was set up when we arrived there but we could see that there were designated tables for such groups as "Students Supporting Israel", "Omani Student Organization", "Latinos Unidos", "Indian Student Organization", "Saudi Student Association" and "Muslim Student Association".

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Yet several displays were up and staffed so we got to talk to Ms. Zijie Li, Project Coordinator for the "Confucius Institute"; Ms. Michele Bowman, Director of the ESL Program; Mr. Charles Stone of "Hillel"; and Ms. Oroshay Kaiwan (who immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan when she was in high school) from "Muslim World Today" a relatively new organization that "aspires to be a platform to share the diverse human voices of men and women of all backgrounds living in Muslim-majority countries and emigres from those countries now living in the West."

We also got to sample some wheat flour tea provided by the "Taiwanese Student Organization". We had never tasted anything quite like it before and although we would have to develop a taste for it, we would like to try it again. 

 

Last Saturday at the "Breaking the Chains of Human Trafficking" gala, we visited with Sister Cecilia Liberatore who told us that Notre Dame College's 2017 InnerCitySaints Award luncheon would be taking place on Thursday at the Tudor Arms Double Tree Hotel at University Circle.

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Sister Cecilia also told us that the honoree for this year would be the Father James P. "Jim" O'Donnell who we have encountered many times over the years at various functions so at the start of the week we called Notre Dame College where we spoke to Ms. Ann Coakley, Executive Director of College Advancement who was very glad that we wanted to attend and arranged for us to do so.

To be sure, Father O'Donnell has quite an extensive resume and the link to the luncheon announcement that contains it is:

http://www.notredamecollege.edu/about/news/notre-dame-college-honors-father-figure-foster-children-cleveland-central-neighborhood

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Very briefly, as the program notes read, he was ordained a priest in 1956 and one of his greatest accomplishments involved living and working "among the most vulnerable and forgotten in Cleveland's inner city. He, along with Sister Maggie Conrad, established the community of the 'Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist' 35 years ago to provide a ministry of 'presence' in the Central neighborhood of Cleveland, one of the most depressed and under-served areas of the city. During this time, Fr. Jim and a loyal following of volunteers were instrumental in bringing 'Habitat for Humanity' to the Central neighborhood and spearheading the renovation of several derelict buildings and more than 300 dilapidated houses and vacant lots into vibrant streets with attractive homes, a playground, a community garden, and a spacious neighborhood park...Although now formally in retirement, Fr. Jim O'Donnell continues his 'ministry of presence' in the diocese through his work as a chaplain in the northeast Ohio Pre-release Program for men and women in our prisons..."

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During his acceptance speech, Fr. O'Donnell gave an example of how important a "presence" can be when he talked about meeting a man in the Central neighborhood soon after he arrived there. This individual was an ex-con and an alcoholic who told Fr. O'Donnell that he would never know what it was like to him nor would it be good if he was like him; in fact, it would be like both of them being stuck together in a barrel of tar where they could not help each other. But, said the man, Fr. O'Donnell could be of service if he remained "present" outside of the barrel to pull him out.

A very humble man, Fr. O'Donnell maintained that "behind every man is a great woman" and then asked Sister Maggie to come forward and join him on the stage and the applause level that they received was quite high. Nevertheless, he made clear that this day was not about him or Sister Maggie, it was about "lifting up all of the poor of the inner city" and thus dedicated the day to to all of them and thanked everyone who has provided aid in some fashion over the years.

For us, we could just feel the great amount of love that everyone in the banquet room had for Fr. O'Donnell.

Mr. Russ Mitchell of WKYC-TV3, who delivered the greeting, was quite right when he said that outside the weather was cold but "warm hearts" heated the room. He went on to say that we were gathered to "shine light on a quiet, unsung person of boundless compassion."

During his invocation, the Most Reverend Roger W. Gries praised God for giving us someone like Fr. O'Donnell and others who devote themselves to serving the underprivileged. "We reach out and share life with others," said Rev. Gries, "so that we can have a good life."

As he presented the award to Fr. O'Donnell, Mr. Thomas G. Kruczek, the President of Notre Dame College, told him that it was an honor to give him this award because of the "unselfish" work that he did in terms of helping those on the verge of hopelessness. He also mentioned that he "set the bar high" for those who might be honored with this award in the future.

In addition to honoring Fr. O'Donnell, there was an excellent keynote address by Mr. John Prendergast, a very respected author and human rights activist who has worked in Africa in various capacities for some 30 years now. On this occasion, he spoke of his involvement in the "Big Brother" program particularly how his relationship with two boys affected his life and their lives over the years. Once again, the theme seemed to be how much just being a "presence" can make a difference.

Afterwards, we talked to Mr. Prendergast about our time with former U.S. Congressperson Dennis J. Kucinich, a person Mr. Prendergast very much admires, and he was quite eager to hear about what the former U.S. Congressperson was doing these days.  Despite his celebrity, Mr. Prendergast was a very accessible guy and we felt very comfortable sharing with him.

We also liked sharing with Mr. David Ford who sat beside us at lunch because his daughter, Ms. Elizabeth Ford, is an immigration attorney who works closely with HOLA. Thus Mr. Ford discussed recent immigration trends with us.

Sitting on our other side was our friend Sister Kathleen Mary Ryan who expressed a desire to attend the holiday party of "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" in early December. We told her that she didn't have to call or send an email-we just took her RSVP on the spot. 
 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

 

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