Notre Dame College to Bestow 2017 InnerCitySaints Award to Minister in Cleveland Central Neighborhood

Notre Dame College will again pay tribute to the steadfast but self-effacing “saints” who serve the urban communities of Cleveland by honoring a priest who has lived and worked among the most vulnerable and forgotten in Cleveland’s inner city.

The College will present its 2017 InnerCity Saints Award, recognizing a secular or religious person or persons who bring hope to and are transforming otherwise despairing or relentlessly challenging situations in the local community, to Fr. James "Jim" O’Donnell during a luncheon Thursday, November 16, at the Tudor Arms Double Tree Hotel at University Circle.

The ceremony will feature an address by Notre Dame’s Abrahamic Center Distinguished Lecturer for 2017, John Prendergast, an American human rights activist, author and former Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council. He is the founding director of the Enough Project, a nonprofit human rights organization.

Prendergast will provide the College’s Abrahamic Center Distinguished Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 16, in Regina Auditorium on the Notre Dame campus. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Proceeds from the InnerCitySaints Award luncheon, will directly benefit the College’s Caring Hearts 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 13. Contact Ann Coakley, Executive Director of College Advancement, at 216.373.6532 or

About Fr. Jim O’Donnell

Until recently, Father Jim O’Donnell has lived and worked among the most vulnerable and forgotten in Cleveland’s inner city. He, along with Sr. 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 underserved 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.

In the years leading up to Fr. Jim’s extraordinary work in the Central neighborhood, his spiritual journey as a priest began when he was ordained in 1956.  His first assignments included transforming the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) program into meaningful volunteer service engaging young people in service projects as well as athletics. 

Throughout his years of service as a traditional parish priest, Fr. Jim spent an extended amount of time in India working alongside Mother Teresa where he was inspired by the undeniable presence of God’s love among the poorest of the poor. He also spent several weeks with world renowned French philosopher and spiritual leader Jean Vanier, the Founder of L’Arche Communities. Through his inspired connection with Jean Vanier, Fr. Jim established the first of four L’Arche homes in Cleveland which can only be described as “communities of love” for individuals with developmental and physical disabilities living interdependently with individuals who are not impaired.

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 and as a regular celebrant  at St. Coleman, St. Malachi and St. Patrick Sunday Masses.

About the InnerCity Saints Award

The Notre Dame College InnerCity Saints Award offers individuals, businesses and organizations the opportunity to shine a light on a Cleveland inner-city saint, someone of exceptional yet humble service to urban communities in the College’s home region. The award may be presented to any lay or religious person(s) who unselfishly live their lives serving others, most notably the poor and marginalized of society.

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 InnerCity Saints 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 Hearts Fund, which supports students who face unforeseen financial, physical or emotional hardship during the academic year.

The InnerCity Saints tribute, first bestowed in 2016 under 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.

The inaugural award was presented last November to Sr. Rita Mary Harwood, SND, secretary for parish life and development with the Diocese of Cleveland who 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.

September 2017

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
10:00 AM
Thursday September 20, 10:00am
Falcon Cafe
E.g., 09/20/18
E.g., 09/20/18