The power of generosity
John and Carol Saeman help build the Church by leveraging time, talent and treasure . . .
When you mention the word “philanthropy” to any serious Catholic in Denver, they immediately think of John and Carol Saemen. Most major Catholic educational initiatives in the area — as well as various Catholic charities focused on the poor — have found patronage in the Saemans, who are also founding members of Legatus’ Denver Chapter.
The couple has generously given of their resources, time, talent and leadership, said Robert Lemming, chairman of Seeds of Hope, a tuition-assistance program that helps poor children attend Catholic schools.
“And whenever possible, they try to do it without having their name in print,” he added. “The Saemans don’t want the focus to be on them.”
When John Saemen was growing up, he frequently saw his parents helping others. His understanding of generosity was molded by their example.
“They were hard-working, farm-labor people from the Midwest,” he told Legatus Magazine. “They were very generous to their neighbors and the Church.”
Later, John had the opportunity to work with Bill Daniels, the “founding father” of the cable industry. Daniels spent a major part of his life giving back to the communities he came from.
“He was a great philanthropist; it was a great education to work with him,” John explained. “For him, it was a foregone conclusion that we had to be generous with the resources that God gave us and share with people in need.”
The Saemans’ first major gift was to Samaritan House, a project of the Archdiocese of Denver to help the homeless. Their involvement began because of their friendship with a priest, Monsignor C.B. “Father Woody” Woodrich.
“Father Woody was always giving away his coat to homeless people,” said Carol Saemen. “It made a deep impression on us. We finally gave him a coat and made him promise to keep it.”
Monsignor Woody had a vision to found a homeless shelter in the early 1980s. The Denver cathedral had a shelter attached to it, but it wasn’t efficient.
“We would have cocktail parties to try to raise funds, and no one would come,” said Carol. “No one was interested. We had to overcome that. It was very humbling, but we had to keep going.”
Samaritan House took years to get off the ground, but it became Denver’s first stand-alone shelter. Today, residents receive a bed, food, clothing and various services on site, including case management, medical care, and referrals for employment, social service assistance and educational opportunities.
One of the things the Saemans like best is that Samaritan House helps get residents back on their feet. People have to register when they arrive and work at getting a job. Counselors help residents get their lives together again.
“It’s not just a shelter,” Carol explained. “People can leave their money in a kind of bank account, but they have to work at pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. It’s geared towards getting people to achieve self-sufficiency.”
Though John and Carol have given to charities aimed at helping the poor, they have turned their sights on organizations that help educate the faithful. Denver has attracted some of the most dynamic organizations in this regard.
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) is one the fastest growing Catholic organizations in the country. Headquartered in Denver, the group sends missionary teams to do outreach among college students, teaching them about Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith.
FOCUS founder Curtis Martin met the Saemans at an ordination ceremony in Denver nine years ago. The couple got involved with FOCUS immediately. Yet, as always, their involvement went far beyond simply writing a check.
“They have a beautiful ranch in Northern Colorado,” Martin said. “They invited our staff of 50 people for chili. As John and Carol met our staff, they grasped the depth and breadth of FOCUS. This led to greater enthusiasm, which led to greater engagement.”
Today the Saemans have a national leadership role in helping FOCUS expand from 35 to 100 campuses.
“They teach others to be lifelong investors in the faith,” said Martin, a member of Legatus’ Denver Chapter. “They teach the power of generosity in the Church.”
The couple is also involved with the Augustine Institute, a graduate school dedicated to teaching scripture, Catholic doctrine and history by using the best of modern technology. Many of its students take online courses.
“The Saemans have been a tremendous help from the beginning,” said Dr. Tim Gray, president of the Augustine Institute. “John is like the E.F. Hutton of the Catholic world. When he speaks, people listen because of his wisdom and penetrating insight into people and how things run. Carol has a heart for evangelization like few people I have met.”
The Saemans also back groups like ENDOW, Seeds of Hope, the two seminaries in Denver, the Papal Foundation, the Susan B. Anthony List and organizations that defend traditional marriage.
“ENDOW helps women learn about the dignity of womanhood,” said Carol. “Young women today don’t know how to be a mother, a worker. They get so many mixed messages. This group helps them help themselves.”
Seeds of Hope has helped over 11,000 inner city children go to Catholic schools in Denver through tuition assistance. Without Seeds’ efforts, Lemming said, many of Denver’s inner city Catholic schools would have closed.
“The Saemans like to support things which have leverage,” he said. “This has infinite leverage. When these kids get an education you not only lift them up, you lift up their families and give stability to their neighborhoods.”
The Papal Foundation assists the Church in the developing world by providing grants to a variety of building and aid projects. The Susan B. Anthony List works to advance the role of pro-life women in the political process.
The Saemans have also been instrumental in encouraging other Catholics to be generous with their resources. They often invite friends to their ranch in order to connect them with the leaders of Catholic organizations. Many of these friends have gone on to become benefactors.
When it comes to discernment about giving, the Saemans discuss projects and consult their three children who make up the board of their family foundation.
“Most of the time, we feel that God brings projects to us,” said Carol. “We obviously pray over our giving, and we are very dependent on our Archbishop Charles Chaput. We get lots of ideas from him.”
John and Carol regard Legatus as one of their greatest blessings.
Through their chapter, they attend monthly meetings, travel and take part in the Great Adventure Bible Study.
“To be with like-minded people is incredible,” said Carol. “I’m a convert, and it is a blessing to be where ‘two or more are gathered.’We recently spent four days with a few Legatus couples. We sat around and talked about the fact that in five years we have become a family and a community — and Legatus did it.”
The Saemans’ philanthropy has inspired many fellow Legates to give back. When it comes to generosity, the Saemans believe it is simply something that they are called to.
“We feel strongly that we have been abundantly blessed,” said Carol. “If we are to be welcomed into the Kingdom, we must be faithful stewards of what He has given us — and teach our children how to give.”
Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.