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‘I think it is in our DNA’

Posted by | Catholic Charities Communications

Major supporter, born the same year as Catholic Charities, reflects on her family’s long connection to the helping organization

Amid the Great Depression, Catholic Charities of Oregon and Susanne Mayer entered the world. Both have offered brightness and hope even when times are tough.

“I think that’s why I have such an affinity for Catholic Charities — they’re the same age I am,” says the woman now known as Sue Corrado. “I think that’s why we’ve been so close to it. I think it is in our DNA.”

Sue and husband Al have been major Oregon philanthropists for more than six decades.

Her connection to Catholic Charities began through her father, who helped found the nonprofit the same year his daughter was born.

Edwin Mayer, the son of German immigrants, had served in World War I and became a pharmacist in downtown Portland at Owl Drug. An enterprising man, he rallied financial support from family members in 1919 to buy into a photo finishing service. The business grew, producing scenic postcards.

Edwin Mayer about the time he started work in Owl Drug in Portland

Eventually, the firm invented the View-Master, a hand-held gadget that allowed people to view slides in three dimensions. Generations of Americans experienced the world by peering into the goggles and advancing slides on circular reels.

Mayer used his newfound wealth to support causes dear to his heart.

In 1933 he was part of a group of Catholic men who chartered Catholic Charities of Oregon to respond to great need. The new organization provided access to the many Catholic social ministries already in place and created new initiatives.  

Unemployed men would knock on the Mayers’ door seeking food. The family lived in Southeast Portland not far from train tracks, where rail-riders jumped on and off to look for jobs.

“They would come up and my mother would always have soup and a sandwich ready for these men,” recalls Sue. The men began marking trees in front of the Mayer house to let future unemployed workers know that here was a place of hospitality.

Edwin Mayer in the 1950s

Edwin Mayer would wake his children at 6 a.m. to tend the family garden, giving some of the harvest to people in need. 

“That was just part of our life,” says Sue. “I grew up that way.”

“My father was probably the best businessman I’ve ever known — and fair and honest. Ethics absolutely ran the business,” Sue recalls, explaining that her father also was “humble and honest,” a good parent to six children and a devoted Catholic who was active in organizations like the Holy Name Society, the Knights of Columbus and Serra Club, a group that promotes vocations to priesthood and religious life.  

Once a month, Mayer would sit down in the dining room and start writing checks to charities, Sue remembers. “Catholic Charities was right up his alley — to do it right locally, instead of writing checks to all over the country.”

Mayer, who had grown up in Mount Angel and even studied at the seminary there, was a natural organizer. “It just was in his system to get things started,” says Sue. “He wasn’t one who was just going to sit and watch.”

Susanne’s husband Al, the son of Italian immigrants, grew up in downtown Portland, where his father ran a grocery store and tavern. After attending the University of Portland and serving in the Air Force, he started an investment firm that would become Columbia Management Company, where he would be a partner for more than four decades.

Al and Sue Corrado, 1998

Al and Sue carried on Mayer’s giving ways. Al says that seeing his father-in-law write check after check influenced him powerfully.

“And it made my dad so happy,” says Sue. “It was just something that he wanted to do — it wasn’t because he had to do it. And I think that’s what impressed Al so much. He just could not believe that somebody would be so happy about giving away money.”

Nine decades after Catholic Charities began, Sue is still excited about it.

“Everything Catholic Charities has done we’ve been behind 100 percent,” says Sue, especially citing affordable housing and migrant and refugee work. “Catholic Charities is just the mainstay for people who desperately need help.”

Sue reflects on the meaning of “Catholic” in Catholic Charities. It means a deep and faithful connection to the church as well as the idea of catholic as universal.

Catholic Charities “has taken in so many different facets of care and facilitating things for people to be able to have a better life,” she says. “Catholic Charities can work with people in a human way to just feel their pain and see what they can do to help. And I would hope that that would just continue and grow.”

Sue thinks her father would be proud of the Catholic Charities of today.

“I mean, starting with just six men and so parochial, local, and to see it the way it is now,” she says. “I’m sure he’s looking down from heaven and very, very happy.