Lay leadership is the heart of Foundations in Education, Charity, and Faith

Editor’s note: The $75 million We Stand With Christ capital campaign has raised more than $65 million and is the most successful campaign in the history of the Diocese of Bridgeport.

The campaign has designated 50 percent of the funds raised, an estimated $37.5 million, for parish needs. The remaining 50 percent will be invested in Foundations in Education ($12.5 million), Foundations in Faith ($15 million) and Foundations in Charity ($10 million).

What follows are the stories of trustees who serve on the independent lay boards and who will oversee the three Foundations and shepherd the funds entrusted to them.

Whenever Tom Kolenberg of Stamford reads the morning paper or watches the evening news and sees the unrest and division that afflict our country, he comes to one conclusion. Our true hope lies in the Gospel.

So while political leaders wrangle and debate, Kolenberg says he wants to bring the world closer to Christ and make it a better place for the hungry and suffering, for the impoverished and neglected in society. That is why he joined the board of Foundations in Charity, which has as its mandate helping put faith into action by providing services to the needy and vulnerable.

“I want to embrace and live the Gospel and change the outcome as much as I can,” he says.

Kolenberg is one of nearly 40 lay trustees who are on the boards of Foundations in Education, Foundations in Charity and Foundations in Faith, three non-profit initiatives begun by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano as a result of the diocesan synod to address the needs of the Church in Fairfield County in the areas of education, charity and pastoral ministries.

The foundations are made possible through contributions to the “We Stand With Christ” capital campaign, which will provide them with funds to support their missions into the future. At the heart of those foundations are three independent lay boards, dedicated to their missions and committed to overseeing the funds entrusted to them.

Bishop Caggiano has pointed to the importance of lay leadership in the foundations, emphasizing the professional expertise they bring, along with their commitment to their faith and a heartfelt desire to serve and further the Church’s mission in Fairfield County.

“In an age when the Church is seeking to engage lay leaders in more meaningful ways, serving as a director in these foundations allows competent and dedicated lay leaders to participate in a meaningful way in the ministries of the Church,” Bishop Caggiano said. “For that reason, I am deeply grateful to all the women and men who have volunteered to serve as directors in these foundations.”

Kolenberg is a first Vice President of Merrill Lynch in Stamford and he has served on boards for a variety of organizations, including the I Have a Dream Foundation, Catholic Family Services in Stamford, Malta House and Good Counsel Homes in the tristate region.

“Serving on a board is wonderful because you can make meaningful decisions that result in action, but as a board member you can’t serve effectively unless you’re actually in the trenches too,” he says. “Being at New Covenant House with the mothers who are suffering and looking in their eyes, you realize that Christ wants you to help them.” That requires making ourselves small, he says, just as the Creator of the Universe did when he washed the dirty feet of the Apostles.

The Gospel parable that most inspires him is the rich man and the beggar Lazarus, who sat at his gate, longing for the scraps that fell from his table. When they died, the angels took Lazarus to Heaven, but the rich man went to Hades where he was tormented. “Remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony,” Abraham told him.

“The rich man’s greatest sin was his neglect of the poverty and starvation right at his doorstep,” Kolenberg says. “Instead he went about his life of luxury and paid no attention to the suffering around him.” By giving only a portion of his wealth and setting it aside for the needy and neglected, the outcome would have been different. That’s what we are called to do, Kolenberg says.

Since 2016, Holly Doherty-Lemoine has been executive director of Foundations in Education, which awarded $2.5 million in tuition assistance for the 2018-2019 school year to nearly 1,400 students—approximately one in four.

The foundation is committed to strengthening and transforming Catholic education by supporting innovation in academic and extra-curriculum programs, fostering opportunities for professional development of school leaders and providing tuition assistance to families in need. All this is done in conjunction with her 18-member board.

“They bring a great level of expertise in many different areas, in all facets of management as well as educational and financial expertise,” Doherty-Lemoine says, noting that the board includes a former college president, a superintendent of schools, a corporate CEO, an expert in early learning, the founder of a venture capital firm, a former hospital president and executives from companies like Morgan Stanley.

“I can’t say enough about my board,” she says. “This is a lay board making decisions. We work very closely with them, and they are great advisers and are instrumental in decision-making in the areas of tuition assistance, innovation and leadership grants and donor-provided programs.”

One of those trustees is George Coleman, who for 24 years held leadership positions with the State Department of Education, including Acting Commissioner of Education. He currently serves as an Early Childhood System Development Specialist at Cooperative Educational Services and is an adjunct professor at Western Connecticut State University.

Coleman understands the importance of a good education. His daughter went to St. Rose of Lima School and then Immaculate High School before going on to Howard University and George Washington University Law School.

“I got on the board because I support quality education and definitely appreciate options being available to children and families,” he said. “And I appreciate the fact that a good faith-based education with attention to religious teaching and morality are also cultivated in a constant way.”

Foundations is working to advance a better Catholic education for future generations, he believes, by looking at areas in the system that needed investment, from preschools to high schools, along with the professional development of teachers. He has high praise for his colleagues on the board, who come from a wide range of professions and share the commitment to improving Catholic education and making it available to as many students as possible.

“I have been very fortunate in my career to be associated with high-quality leaders in the work I do, but I have to tell you that this board the bishop put together is phenomenal,” he said. They are exceptional in their devotion to the cause of Catholic education, their efforts to raise funds for new programs, their ability to raise consciousness in the diocese about the importance of the Catholic schools and their willingness to conceptualize a vision for the future.

But what most inspires Coleman is the role Foundations in Education plays in reaching the poorest parts of Fairfield County.

“They are reaching out to schools and families in Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk, and when I see the acknowledgement of the bishop and his willingness to invest in these areas, I am absolutely inspired…and that is when my faith is most vibrant,” he says.

As a young man, Coleman received a Catholic education. However, he notes, “When the Church had to retreat from the urban centers in the 60’s and 70’s, it left a tremendous void. When we think about the minorities and the number who depended upon the alternative of Catholic education, there is a sense, I think, the loss had a lot to do with the stagnation in those communities.”

Foundations in Education provides him “a lesson in Christian ethics that I am so attracted to.”

Kelly Weldon of Our Lady of Fatima Parish is assistant to the chairperson of Foundations in Faith, which was established to further the diocese’s mission to support its pastoral ministries and programs in religious education, evangelization, support for priests, deacons and seminarians along with special-needs ministries.

Foundations in Faith succeeds the Faith in the Future Fund, a not-for-profit endowment fund created in 1996 as a result of a fundraising campaign with a goal to support both education and pastoral ministries of the diocese. Faith in the Future has supported these ministries and is poised to grow and continue this work as Foundations in Faith.

Weldon, who coordinates the grant process for the John Paul II Fund for religious education and youth ministry, works with a board of 13 trustees who helped establish criteria for the grant applications.

“I was impressed at the level of depth they embraced when it came to the grant review process,” she said. “They were eager to get involved when it came to looking very closely at each application and they also wanted to understand what the parishes needs were. They are keen on understanding how we can build on them to foster innovation.”

Last October, when Bishop Caggiano asked Lorraine Carrano if she would be interested in serving on the board of Foundations in Faith, her immediate response was “Why me?” And he told her. Carrano, who has had a lifetime of service to the community and Church, received the St. Augustine Medal in 2016 for her service and dedication.

And the mission, the bishop told her, was something that has been a priority in her life—revitalizing parish life and pursuing the goal that Pope Francis has articulated of evangelizing and bringing people back to the Church one person at a time.

“The potential is huge for Foundations in Faith to help a lot of parishes that don’t have funds to get the programs they want,” she said. “And when people give to this foundation, it will stay there and enable parishes to do things they would normally not be able to.”

Carrano is a graduate of St. Vincent’s School of Nursing and Sacred Heart University. She had a diversified nursing career in hospital inpatient, critical care and outpatient settings as well as in the community as a school nurse. She also served as corporate vice president of Mission and Ethics at St. Vincent’s Medical Center and Health Services and is an affiliate of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

She and her husband Tom, who have two daughters and three grandchildren, live in Trumbull and are members of the St. Margaret Shrine community, which was her parish when she was growing up in the North End of Bridgeport.

Today, they are still active and help with many programs and events, including the annual St. Anthony Feast fundraiser. Carrano also serves as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and is a member and officer of the Altar Guild.

She is particularly excited about the initiatives and programs that John Paul II Fund can support to revitalize a parish and help keep teenagers engaged in their Catholic faith after they make their confirmation…or bring back young people in their 20s and 30s who have fallen away.

“You have to be willing to accept some of changes going on because it is an evolution of the Church,” she said. “But the secular world continues to influence our people, and we need to pull them back and keep them grounded with a connection to the Church.” And that is a goal she hopes to achieve by her participation as a trustee on the Foundations in Faith board.

Al Barber, president of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, understands firsthand the stress that fundraising can have on an organization that does charitable work, which is one of the reasons he stands firmly behind the mission of Foundations in Charity.

“This is an absolutely great idea because if we do it right, it will take the fundraising pressure off of Catholic Charities, which can be a problem,” he says. “A lot of the directors of our programs have to be involved in fundraising, and that is not their skill base. What we are hoping for is a $10 million endowment for Foundations in Charity, which will fill in the gaps and let us do some exciting things.”

During his career, Barber had had a number of senior executive positions with GE, NBC, CNBC and other companies. In 2004, he was named president of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, one of the largest private non-profit human services providers in Connecticut with 30 programs that offer food, housing, behavioral health, adoption, immigration and family support services to the needy and vulnerable of all faiths.

As he likes to say, “We don’t do what we do for Catholics. We do what we do because we are Catholics.”

He is also excited about working with the board of Foundations in Charity, who he describes as “very smart people who are committed and energetic.”

“They will review where the money is most needed and provide appropriate oversight,” he says.

Barber’s colleagues credit him with having “a keen corporate administrative eye” after having spent almost 30 years in GE in nine different businesses.

(For more information on the “We Stand with Christ” campaign for the diocese, call 203.648.9050. Visit the web at Give online at: To watch the We Stand with Christ videos visit the diocesan YouTube.)