Tim Dieringer left a life insurance policy to Catholic Charities. (Sentinel archives)
Tim Dieringer left a life insurance policy to Catholic Charities. (Sentinel archives)
No one knew it, but Tim Dieringer of Holy Family Parish in Southeast Portland took out a life insurance policy with Catholic Charities of Oregon as beneficiary.

Dieringer, who owned a local ice cream shop and served as sacristan at his parish, was not married. For decades, he’d sent modest gifts to Catholic Charities. But upon his death in 2015 at age 61, he made a transformational contribution. Amazed and grateful, Catholic Charities leaders decided to use the quarter million dollars to complete the second floor of its Powell Boulevard headquarters, offices that house Save First, a program that helps lower-income people develop skills and strategies for saving money and becoming self-sufficient.

“Talk about giving in secret,” said Sarah Granger, who leads development for Catholic Charities of Oregon. “It felt so providential.” Granger is moved by the tender persistence it took for Dieringer to pay the premium year after year.

She thinks it’s clear that donors who write good causes into their estate plans are particularly attuned to ultimate matters. “It’s people who are really in touch with the reality that you don’t take it with you,” she explained. “They usually are very spiritual people, very intentional people who have listened in a deep way to what they are called to do.”

Giving at death seems to be on the upswing. A survey conducted by Ipsos found that among younger Canadians who have a will, more than half have included charitable giving.

Such gifts, which usually far outweigh donations made during a lifetime, have a large impact on Catholic organizations.

Carmen Gaston, director of the Office of Mission Advancement for the Archdiocese of Portland, is working with a retired teacher who wants to leave his estate to fund seminarian education.

“The church has been his family,” Gaston said. “He is really at peace about this.”

After meeting with the archdiocese’s amiable vocations team, the man said he is resolved to save every penny he can for future priests.

Not every donor will want to leave an entire estate to the church, said Gaston. Sometimes it’s a percentage. In a frequent setup, a donor treats the church as equal to one of the children when it comes to a share of the estate.

Gifts from an estate are not just for the wealthy, Gaston explained.

“I hear from all kinds of people that they want something to look back at,” she said. “They want to leave their mark on the world, leave a legacy.”

Like several Catholic groups, Catholic Youth Organization received a substantial gift after the death of Gene Feltz, a prominent attorney and philanthropist. The gift was so large that interest from it can be used for maintenance at Camp Howard for the long term.

“What a phenomenal family,” said Lisa Sanders, director of development for CYO/Camp Howard.

The Feltz family would gather at Camp Howard on Labor Day, forming lifelong memories. Feltz loved the camp. Also, his children played CYO sports.

After CYO/Camp Howard finishes a project to build a chapel at camp, attention will turn to seeking legacy giving — that’s development lingo for donations from estates.

“Our donors express how much they enjoyed their experiences and how much that meant to their families and their communities and they are excited to continue the tradition for future generations,” said Sanders.

Major philanthropists Bob Franz and Elsie Franz Finley left $100 million to Providence Health and Services, funding a major cancer research wing. The brother and sister lived frugally despite Bob’s success in banking. They had helped Providence hire Dr. Walter Urba, a leading researcher. Bob died in 2016 and Elsie in 2018.

“They allowed that cancer research to take off and thrive,” said Kelly Buechler, who leads philanthropy efforts for Providence Health and Services in Oregon.

The siblings gave quietly, but after Bob’s death Elsie wanted the cancer center to bear his name.

Mount Angel Seminary is poised to receive a major estate gift because a priest graduate was so loving in his ministry. A woman who prefers to remain anonymous was seriously ill and had a long stay in a hospital. The chaplain visited often. She and he had many deep conversations. The woman, who does not live in Oregon, had been considering support for priest formation and asked the chaplain where he had attended seminary. When he told her “Mount Angel,” she picked up the phone.

Susan Gallagher, planned giving manager, answered the call.

“She felt we had done a very good job with him,” Gallagher said. “She wants to do an annuity for us.”

Gallagher said that alumni of the seminary often give bequests since they have such good memories of the hilltop Benedictine monastery. One graduate left a gift to be used expressly for the monks; it will help manage and care for art at the abbey.