Catholic fundraising exec went to jail over embezzling from health system affiliated with nuns, now raising money for religious order

Michael Gerrity now works for the Augustinian religious order in Chicago. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to felony charges, admitting he “misappropriated” more than $250,000 from a charity associated with Franciscan sisters.

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Michael Gerrity, seen in a fundraising pitch for the Augustinian order of Catholic priests.

Michael Gerrity, seen in a fundraising pitch for the Augustinian order of Catholic priests.

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Michael Gerrity went to jail over $250,000 embezzled two decades ago from a hospital charity near Buffalo, New York, that he’d been running and that was affiliated with a group of Catholic nuns, according to prosecutors, who said he spent some of the money on vacations.

Now, he’s working for a Catholic religious order, the Augustinians, as its chief fundraiser for the Chicago region.

Just last month, he organized a charity gala at the Drake Hotel, an event that in past years has brought in about $250,000 for the order that employs him.

A ballroom at the Drake Hotel as it was being readied last month for a fundraising event organized by Michael Gerrity for the Augustinian religious order.

A ballroom at the Drake Hotel as it was being readied last month for a fundraising event organized by Michael Gerrity for the Augustinian religious order.

Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

Gerrity, now 72, was hired by the Augustinians in 2011. That was six years after he pleaded guilty to two felony attempted grand larceny charges and five years after he was sentenced to several months in jail.

The charges stemmed from his time as executive director of the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation, a charitable arm for a Buffalo-area medical center founded by and long associated with Franciscan nuns. As the top administrator, Gerrity was described as the main “face” of the foundation, raising money to buy things like hospital equipment to improve patient care.

Court records that show Michael Gerrity admitted he “misappropriated” more than $250,000 from the hospital charity he once ran near Buffalo.

Court records show Michael Gerrity admitted he “misappropriated” more than $250,000 from the hospital charity he once ran near Buffalo.

Erie County, N.Y., district attorney

But Gerrity, who has taught classes and written a book on philanthropy, admitted he “misappropriated” about $250,000 from the foundation and agreed to pay it back, court records show. He also admitted he “misappropriated” $15,000 or so from another Catholic hospital group.

A prosecutor said in 2005 that Gerrity’s expenditures served “no legitimate foundation purpose” and that the “most blatant that come to mind were personal vacations paid for from beginning to end,” the Buffalo News reported.

Gerrity also used foundation money to make political contributions to a Republican campaign committee, according to records from the Erie County, N.Y., district attorney’s office that say his misconduct extended from 1999 to 2004.

He was fired that May, according to the Buffalo News, “after auditors found he was illegally using foundation credit cards to pay for personal items and vacations and to reimburse himself improperly for personal expenses.”

Michael Gerrity’s arrest photo.

Michael Gerrity’s arrest photo.

Erie County, N.Y.

Announcing Gerrity’s hiring as “advancement director,” a 2012 Augustinian newsletter pointed to his 27 years of fundraising experience “for religious orders, secondary schools, hospitals, a university and overseas missions.”

The Rev. Anthony Pizzo runs the order’s Midwest province, whose headquarters are on the Far Southwest Side. Pizzo, whose order oversees St. Rita High School on the South Side and Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, says Gerrity came “with the highest of recommendations from a multitude of respected people with whom he worked.

“At the time of hire, Michael fully disclosed his financial offenses from 2004,” Pizzo says in a written statement. “Moreover, the province conducted a comprehensive background check on Mr. Gerrity and performed due diligence prior to our offer of employment. Since joining the Midwest Augustinians, he has done exemplary work for us and has proven his trustworthiness.”

The Rev. Anthony Pizzo in 2018.

The Rev. Anthony Pizzo in 2018.

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Someone who has worked on Catholic fundraising in the Chicago area and agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity says the background of anyone involved is important because “trust is the essence of fundraising, trust is the essence of philanthropy.”

Pizzo says the Augustinians’ attitude toward Gerrity is rooted in Jesus’ teachings.

“Disciples of Jesus Christ in the Catholic tradition, the Augustinians strive to follow the words and imitate the actions of Jesus,” he says. “We remember Jesus’ reaction to the woman caught in the act of adultery, ‘Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’

“Mr. Gerrity’s past is his past. Almost 20 years ago, he was charged under the law, served his sentence and made full restitution. As religious men, we strive to do more than just preach about compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption and second chances. Instead, we take vows to God and each other to live it.”

A written statement from the Rev. Anthony Pizzo about the Augustinians employing Michael Gerrity.

A written statement from the Rev. Anthony Pizzo about the Augustinians employing Michael Gerrity.

Provided

Asked about Gerrity, the Rev. James Halstead, the province’s treasurer, told a reporter to “talk to God” and suggested consulting the “New Testament” for answers.

Reached by phone and asked about his conviction, Gerrity said, “It’s not like that,” then hung up.

What used to be called St. Joseph’s Hospital outside Buffalo, whose foundation was run by Michael Gerrity.

What used to be called St. Joseph’s Hospital outside Buffalo, whose foundation was run by Michael Gerrity.

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An Augustinian newsletter says the money raised last year from the Drake gala “represents 20% of the Province’s annual fundraising needs.”

The order declines to explain where that money goes.

Public records show Gerrity was in the process of repaying the money he’d taken in New York, but they don’t cover the entire period he would have been making restitution payments. A spokeswoman for Catholic Health, the network that includes Gerrity’s old hospital, won’t say whether he paid back all of the money.

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