Local Catholic philanthropist offers millions for truly lifesaving ideas

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Since founding the Gerard Health Foundation in 2001, retired Catholic businessman Raymond B. Ruddy has given away millions to fund pro-life causes, abstinence education and efforts to end the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

But his businessman's mind would like those seeking grants to quantify the effect his dollars are having on the foundation's stated goal -- to save lives.

"Even though they know the objective is to save lives, I hear about everything else except that," Ruddy said in a Feb. 11 telephone interview. "They want to expand the newsletter or build a new building or something else. But nobody has come back and said, 'We can save x lives by doing y, and we can do it for this number of dollars.'"

So he is simplifying the process and, beginning Feb. 15, the foundation will be accepting requests for proposals that answer four questions in three or fewer pages:

-- How many lives can you save?

-- What will you do to save these lives?

-- On what basis (scientific research, past experience, etc.) do you believe these many lives can be saved?

-- How many dollars do you need to accomplish your objective?

The foundation, a private charity established by Ruddy and his wife, Marilyn, and based in Natick, Mass., will be accepting proposals for 30 days; Ruddy hopes to begin funding some of the suggested projects four to six weeks later.

"I'm completely open to ideas," he said. "But they must be concrete, documented, lifesaving projects."

Asked how much money he plans to award, Ruddy said he was not committed to a specific amount, but "I have a suspicion we will give away millions of dollars."

Although he said he did not have any specific projects in mind, Ruddy outlined some examples of programs that might be funded by the foundation under the new plan.

"Let's assume that someone is running a pregnancy resource center and they've got a formula down for saving lots of babies," he said. "They might say that with another $100,000 they could set up another center" in a neighborhood where there are many abortions and thus prevent a certain number of abortions.

Or a program that brings children to the United States for organ transplants could propose that "if it had so much money, it could bring a team of doctors that would perform so many more lifesaving procedures," Ruddy added.

He said he planned to visit Malawi in May for the dedication of a new wing of St. Gabriel's Hospital, built with foundation funds for $350,000. The new wing will treat HIV and AIDS patients, and hospital leaders might propose that "if they could bring another doctor in, they could save so many lives," he said.

Ruddy, who said he was "fortunately able to be successful" during 17 years with a private company that went through several public offerings, said he initially planned to work with an existing charity when he retired in 2001. A lifelong Catholic, he had been giving money to the church and to his school but was "not involved in charity operations" -- an area his late parents, Norinne A. and Raymond E. Ruddy, "thought was lacking in my life."

After reviewing the work of about 50 charities, including "many good ones," Ruddy and his wife decided to found a foundation named for St. Gerard Majella, the patron saint of pregnant women.

St. Gerard also has special meaning to one of the foundation's two employees, Jack Malloy. When he and his wife sought help for fertility problems, a Catholic doctor urged them to "keep trying and pray to St. Gerard Majella," Ruddy recounted. The Malloys now have three sons, the middle one named Gerard.

In addition to giving "many millions of dollars each year in grants," the Gerard Health Foundation recently awarded the first Life Prizes named for Ruddy's parents. The six winners -- selected by a panel that included Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston and Ray Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican -- split $600,000.

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Editor's Note: Applications for funding, in a one- to three-page proposal answering the four questions, should be e-mailed by March 15 to: JMalloy@Gerardhealth.org.