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Memorial Mass Celebrated for Margie Grace

Staff members gathered on March 28 in the chapel at RENEW International to celebrate a memorial Mass for Margaret F. Grace, a longtime friend and supporter of the organization.

Fr. Alejandro López-Cardinale, a member of RENEW’s pastoral team, celebrated the Mass for Margie, as she was known, who had died on February 27 after a long illness. She was 93.

Before the Mass, staff members shared their memories of Margie.

“Mrs. Grace and her husband Peter were major benefactors to RENEW in the early years,” RENEW’s president and executive director Sr. Terry Rickard, OP, said. “It is people like the Graces that enabled RENEW to launch. In the early years most of our income—90 percent—came from benefactors. We owe much to the Grace family, especially Margie.”

Margie Grace, pictured with Msgr. Tom Kleissler, received the Spirit of RENEW Award
at the 25th Anniversary Gala, June 2, 2005.

According to her obituary, Margie worked in Rome during the Second Vatican Council with a small group of friends of Cardinal Leon Josef Suenens of Brussels, Belgium, who played a significant role as the chief moderator of the council. This group assisted the cardinal in areas of particular interest to him, such as ecumenism, world poverty, marriage, and the commitment of priests and women religious. Following the council, Margie worked as the U.S. envoy for Cardinal Suenens until his death in 1996, in which year she founded the Cardinal Suenens Center at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. Her legendary kindness extended beyond her own family to the family of the Catholic Church where she and her late husband, Peter, provided leadership and support to schools, retreat houses, monasteries, seminaries, convents, colleges, and universities.

She was the mother of nine children and is survived by 27 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Margie graduated from Cathedral High School, Manhattan, earned a bachelor’s degree in theology, magna cum laude, from Fordham University, New York, and continued graduate studies in theology at Fordham, at Immaculate Conception Seminary, in the Darlington section of Mahwah, New Jersey, and at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

In his memoir, Beyond My Wildest Dreams: From Local Ministry to Worldwide Mission, RENEW co-founder Msgr. Thomas Kleissler recalls his first meeting with Margie Grace:

“Speaking of Long Island reminds me of a surprising call from a parishioner in St. Mary’s Parish, Manhasset, New York. That parishioner was Mrs. Margie Grace, and she was looking for information on RENEW. She invited me to come and have lunch with her. Cardinal Leo Suenens (1904-1996), Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, Belgium, was visiting with the Graces and would like to hear about RENEW. Cardinal Suenens’ leadership at the Second Vatican Council had made him an architect of twentieth century Catholicism and he was one of my heroes. Would I have time for lunch with Margie Grace and Cardinal Suenens? I couldn’t believe my ears. We certainly could find time! This was to begin long friendships with Margie, her husband Peter, the whole Grace family, and with that great man, Cardinal Suenens.

“The following week Cathy [Dambach Martin] and I arrived at the Grace estate. Margie was the perfect friendly hostess and the cardinal was a strikingly holy and humble man. Could you believe a luncheon that extended for four hours? Fortunately, the cardinal didn’t fall asleep but listened with great interest. A man whom I had long admired became a wonderful friend. This friendship included visits with him at his home in Belgium, which further deepened my respect for his great intellect and, above all, his deep and vibrant spirituality.

“It was my privilege to have been included in some important Grace family gatherings and to have felt part of the family on those occasions. Margie is a woman of keen intellect and deep spirituality. She studied theology at our own Immaculate Conception Seminary and translated some fine spiritual works from French to English. What attracted her to RENEW was that it was down to earth and served the people at the parish level. …

“After first getting to know Margie, and becoming a friend, I felt inhibited in asking for help. I remember walking in the garden at Darlington seminary with her secretary, Kay Thorton, and saying, “Kay, now that I’m a friend of Margie’s I feel funny asking her for financial help.” “Nonsense,” she said, and encouraged me to ask for funds when we were in need. Margie came forth with assistance, but the big breakthrough came a few years later and I had nothing to do with it.

“I was in New Zealand when Peter Grace called our office saying he would like to send one of his right-hand men, Tom Doyle, to do a study of RENEW. Sr. Alice received the call and gets all the credit for the result. She worked with Tom Doyle, who submitted a report to Peter that said every dollar given to RENEW would bring the greatest return of any philanthropic investment they could make. (Doyle also tried to hire Sr. Alice for the Grace Corporation.) So it was that they became our major supporters through the 1980s.”

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