Brendan and Anne Clarke met in England before uprooting and coming to Canada. Brendan died recently but not without remembering the Church that gave his life structure. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Clarke-Meneguzzi

Church repaid for a life well lived

By 
  • November 5, 2017
Things certainly could have turned out differently for Brendan Clarke had he not been raised in a family well-grounded in the Catholic faith.


Born in 1926 during a tumultuous time in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he could have easily fallen off the rails and led a, let’s say, less virtuous life.

Elizabeth Clarke-Meneguzzi relays the words that came from her late father’s lips: “If I hadn’t been born a Catholic I would have been a real scoundrel.”

The elder Clarke died in Toronto this past summer. And when he passed, he made sure to thank the Catholic Church for all it had done to keep him on the straight and narrow. Clarke left a gift of securities totalling $87,000 to various Church organizations — ShareLife, the charitable fundraising arm of the Archdiocese of Toronto, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, L’Arche and the John Paul the Great Centre that runs out of St. Augustine of Canterbury parish in Toronto’s Jane and Finch corridor.

“It was his commitment to his faith, the value he got from it, the value he saw in it and how it helped him through his life, so it was his way of giving back,” said his daughter, the eldest of six born to Brendan and Anne Clarke.

It’s a sentiment that — thanks to careful estate planning — has helped sustain Catholic charities, parishes, priests and countless other faith-based organizations. 

While planning for the future of both yourself and your assets is not on everyone’s immediate to-do list, it is an important task that can be made simpler through consultation with family members, and enlisting the help of the local diocese, financial planners and other professionals. 

A comprehensive estate plan often begins with a Will and with professionally drafted Powers of Attorney for property and personal care. These documents spell out a person’s wishes upon their death or should they become incapacitated, and can include directions related to spiritual care.

Like Brendan Clarke, many people use their Will to make bequests of cash, stocks, securities or other assets to the Church or to a favourite charity. For Clarke, his gift was a way to express gratitude to the Church as he avoided the pitfalls of becoming a “scoundrel.”

Many a young Catholic lad wasn’t so lucky in mid-20th-century Northern Ireland and beyond. They lived in an era when being Catholic meant you were a minority with few options to get ahead. One option was the Repub-lican movement and the Irish Republican Army and organizations of its ilk. Many young men chose that path, and the results were not always good. If not for the Catholic Church, young Brendan could have very easily ended up on that path.

“He came from a faith-based home and he continued that,” said Clarke-Meneguzzi. “The fact that he was born a Catholic and had a commitment to his faith, I think that’s what kept him from being a scoundrel.”

Clarke earned his civil engineering degree at Queen’s University in his hometown before embarking on his career. It began in Belfast, but with opportunities limited he soon moved to England where he was to meet his future bride. 

Opportunity eventually knocked again. Clarke uprooted his fledgling family of a wife and two children in the 1950s and, like so many Irish, crossed the Atlantic. He took a position with the former Borough of North York, a Toronto suburb before the six municipalities of Metro Toronto were amalgamated into one. The family settled within the boundaries of St. Edward the Confessor parish in North York.

Having been marginalized during his formative years in Northern Ireland, Clarke-Meneguzzi is not surprised by the benefactors of her father’s generosity. All are dear to his “tremendous sense of fairness and justice,” she said.

L’Arche, dedicated to people with intellectual disabilities, and St. Vincent de Paul were especially very near to his heart. He volunteered with the Vincentians and he was “a very big L’Arche supporter; maybe not bucketloads of money, but the whole philosophy of inclusivity that Jean Vanier espoused.”

Donating to the John Paul the Great Centre came at the suggestion of Quentin Schesnuik, manager of Planned Giving and Personal Gifts at the Archdiocese of Toronto. Clarke always appreciated “works that are a little bit on the fringe,” said his daughter, and he appreciated the work the centre does with refugees and other marginalized people in society.

Still, her father’s contributions to the Church caught the family by surprise at first.

“Initially when he announced this is what he wanted to do, all of us siblings were, ‘You’re going to do what?’ But then we recognized this is his money…. We had to be respectful of the choice he made,” said Clarke-Meneguzzi.

Schesnuik only knew Clarke for a short time but recognized his generosity.

“Brendan was a good man with a very generous heart,” said Schesnuik. “And while I only had the opportunity to meet him for a short while, he made an impression.”

Clarke-Meneguzzi said her father was a very private man who was low-key in putting his faith in action, but credited the Catholic Church for helping him become the man he was.

“The Church, it really was the foundation, it was how my father chose to live.”

(Conlon is a writer in Regina.)

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