Notre Dame College Bestows Inaugural Award to Sister of Notre Dame Leading Prison Ministry

Support Caring Hearts Notre Dame College will launch its tribute to the steadfast but self-effacing—saints—who serve the urban communities of Cleveland by honoring a Sister of Notre Dame dedicated to the ministry of those in prison and those affected by their offenses.

The College will present its inaugural InnerCitySaints Award, recognizing a person or persons who bring hope to and are transforming otherwise despairing or relentlessly challenging situations in the local community, to Sr. Rita Mary Harwood, SND, during a luncheon Thursday, November 17, at the City Club of Cleveland.

The ceremony for Harwood, who leads the Ministry to the Incarcerated of the Cleveland Diocese,will feature an address by Notre Dame’s Abrahamic Center Distinguished Lecturer for 2016, the Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J., founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, which is considered the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and employment re-entry program in the world.

Boyle will provide the College’s Abrahamic Center Distinguished Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 17, in Regina Auditorium on the Notre Dame campus. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Proceeds from the InnerCitySaints Award luncheon, presented this year by The Conway Family Foundation, will directly benefit the College’s Caring Heart Fund, which supports students who face unforeseen financial, physical or emotional hardship during the academic year.

Seating is limited. In addition to individual tickets and packages for four, tables of up to 10 and sponsorships are available. Reservations are required by Monday, November 14. Contact Ann Coakley, manager of special events at the College, at 216.373.6532 or

About Sr. Rita Mary Harwood, SND

Harwood, who is secretary for parish life and development with the Diocese of Cleveland, established and has led the Diocesan Ministry to the Incarcerated since 1996. Currently, about 15,000 people within the eight-county Cleveland Diocese are in jail or prison.

Under her auspices, the Diocesan’s healing through service ministry to the imprisoned has grown to involve more than 350 trained volunteers who meet with the inmates of Ohio’s three state and eight county correctional institutions and four juvenile facilities. They also minister to community-based correctional facilities that offer transitional services. 

Harwood, at the request of the Diocese, extended the program in 1997 to include Listening, Encouraging and Assisting Families (LEAF) Ministry. These support groups are for families and friends of those incarcerated and recently released and those affected by their offenses. The groups meet in as many as 10 churches across the Diocese.

In addition to her role with the ministry to the incarcerated, Harwood has led the Diocese in the development of the Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry, established its Office for the Protection of Children and initiated outreach to Diocesan parish staff working with members who have gambling addictions.

As head of the Secretariat for Parish Life and Development at the Diocese, she oversees offices that serve the parishes within the Diocese, as well as all the lay organizations and ethnic ministries. She is known for her work with local immigrant communities and is active in calling for reform that leads to citizenship for undocumented workers in the United States.

Among other presentations, she has spoken on immigration at the City Club of Cleveland; gave the keynote address at Amazing Grace: A Forum on Race, a conference of the Diocese of Cleveland Racism Committee; and lectured on evangelization at the Diocese of the Midwest Urban Parish Summit.

A long-time parishioner of St. Colman Catholic Church in Cleveland, Harwood has celebrated her 50th Jubilee as a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame.   

About the Cleveland Diocese Ministry to the Incarcerated

Through the Diocesan program, volunteers may tutor and teach classes in self-esteem, anger management and parenting skills. Some offer vocational training, GED classes, tutoring, legal aid and assistance with plans for parole. They lead Alcoholic Anonymous and drug rehabilitation support groups and may help inmates prepare for on-site visits with their children.

Volunteers also introduce inmates to available pastoral services, including sacraments, bible studies and spiritual counseling, and provide Bibles and information on the Catholic Church.

The program provides indigent persons with personal items including toothpaste and brushes, soap, deodorant, lotion, writing paper, even reading glasses. Upon release many are given bus tickets and clothing to wear as they re-enter the community.

The ministry volunteers also work with transitional agencies to aid the recently released and support them in re-establishing their families. Services may help them find housing, job training and employment.

The Sisters of Notre Dame living at the Provincial Center in Chardon, Ohio, also contribute. In addition to prayer support, many write letters to the incarcerated.

The ministry advocates for a model of reconciliation and restoration, in which offenders take responsibility for their actions and repair the harm caused to victims and the community, based upon the scripture passage from Matthew 25 verse 36: “When I was in prison, you visited me.”

To help establish the Diocesan Ministry to the Incarcerated, the Sisters of Charity provided a grant for the education and development of volunteers.

About the Notre Dame College InnerCitySaints Award

The Notre Dame InnerCitySaints Award offers individuals, business and organizations the opportunity to shine a light on a Cleveland InnerCitySaint, someone of exceptional yet humble service to urban communities in the College’s home region.

In honoring a local agent of change, the tribute also extends unprecedented access to a national or international agent of change, an expert of exceptional service who will be expected to present a keynote address at each award ceremony.

The word saint comes from the Latin sanctus, which means "holy." In the Catholic Church, those formally canonized live extraordinary lives of virtue according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The InnerCitySaints Awards luncheon serves as an expression of gratitude toward the honoree or honorees for their transformational impacts in the Cleveland metropolitan area, affords consideration of the recipients’ and sponsors’ causes and acts as a demonstration of solidarity with the Northeast Ohio community. The occasion also provides a means to contribute to the region’s economy and support students in need at Notre Dame, many of whom are from the Cleveland area.

Proceeds from this signature event directly benefit the College’s Caring Heart Fund, which supports students who face unforeseen financial, physical or emotional hardship during the academic year.

The InnerCitySaints tribute, first bestowed in 2016 with the leadership of Notre Dame President Thomas G. Kruczek, raises awareness for the distinct mission of the College, in the tradition of the Sisters of Notre Dame, to embrace diversity and the possibility of every student, including many from communities considered marginalized.

More than 98 percent of Notre Dame students receive financial aid. Many are Pell Grant-eligible, several are the first in their families to attend college and some have documented learning differences.


About Notre Dame College

For almost a century, Notre Dame College has educated a diverse population in the liberal arts for personal, professional and global responsibility. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College has grown strategically to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of students and the dramatic changes in higher education. But it has never lost sight of its emphasis on teaching students not only how to make a good living but also how to live a good life.

Today, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master's degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. Notre Dame College offers NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletic programs for men and women and is located in a picturesque residential neighborhood just 25 minutes from the heart of Cleveland. Hallmarks of the Notre Dame experience include stimulating academics, personalized attention of dedicated faculty and staff, and small class sizes.

Notre Dame College is located at 4545 College Road in South Euclid. For further information contact Brian Johnston, chief communications officer, at 216.373.5252 or


September 20
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