A pioneer — Unique Malachi House founded as a haven for indigent terminally ill

It was all coming together. The late Rev. Paul Hritz, who led a life of serving the poor as pastor of St. Malachi Church, learned in 1986 that a parishioner would donate a four-unit Clinton Avenue row house to the church.

Hritz lost no time to start achieving his goal. He wanted a site where the terminally ill person without funds could die with dignity and tapped visionary parishioner Catherine “Kaki” O’Neill as his co-founder of Malachi House.

“Father Hritz’s mission in life, and he said it all the time, was to help the poor,” O’Neill says. “He lived in a poor environment and saw a lot of very bad things.”

Hritz and O’Neill both knew there would be challenges. They would have to set up a diverse board of trustees, raise funds and convert the row houses to serve the terminally ill — no one had ever launched a group home/hospice facility. Hritz was confident O’Neill would make it all happen.

With a plan in place based on the example of St. Christopher’s Hospice near London, England, O’Neill proceeded to gather board members and supporters. While financial assistance started coming from sources such as the John P. Murphy Foundation and philanthropist Herbert Strawbridge, the breakthrough came when The Cleveland Foundation under Steven Minter, president and executive director, gave its support.

“That was it,” O’Neill says. “Once Steve liked the program, believed in it and invited me to a seminar of his people — that was the stamp of approval.”

O’Neill also realized Malachi House needed another kind of support.

“I needed tremendous help with being connected to the Cleveland community,” she says. “I didn’t have those connections. I was a work-at-home mother, and my brother, Tom Sullivan, chairman and CEO of RPM, was a huge help to me with developing a network.”

Peaceful place

Judy Ghazoul Hilow, executive director, stresses that Malachi House is not only a peaceful place, but a comfortable home.

“When people come to us, there is a lot of fear. Many times they are here because they can’t go anywhere else. That’s where we come in. We give them a home,” she says.

If a person wants to reside at Malachi House, the process starts when a social worker applies to Malachi House on the person’s behalf. Anyone who is on a respirator or ventilator or has an intravenous port is not eligible, Hilow says.

'Kaki' O'Neill visits resident Amber.

‘Kaki’ O’Neill visits resident Amber.

After being in operation several years, Malachi House separated from the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, opting to be ruled by its own board of trustees. But it still serves all people.

“It is without regard to race or religion. It is just ‘Love one another.’ We are all humans,” O’Neill says.

Faith in the mission

Receiving no government funding, Malachi House relies on contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations for donations of time and money. Thanks to many volunteers, union laborers and more than 100,000 donated service hours, Malachi House opened on Sept. 28, 1988.

Two years later, a $2 million capital campaign enabled t

Malachi House resident Herbert plays 'Begin the Beguine' on the piano.

Malachi House resident Herbert plays ‘Begin the Beguine’ on the piano.

he facility to increase capacity from 10 to 15 beds. The home also has a full-service kitchen, family dining room, living room, chapel and atrium.

Malachi House has served more than 2,000 residents, and their names are inscribed on a wall in the chapel. More than 500 volunteer hours are logged each month.

There are no medical services in-house, says Joe Granzier, chairperson. Medical attention is outsourced to local hospices.

“I always like to call the employees sand volunteers the Angels of Malachi House because what they are doing on a day-to-day basis is very, very difficult,” Granzier says. “You are dealing with death. People come here to die. Those people who every day work here and volunteer here are special people. These Angels make Malachi House work.”

AnnVolunteer

Ann Ritty

Ann Ritty has been a volunteer for 10 years at Malachi House, having made a promise to a dying friend to do so.

“Frequently I am asked, ‘Isn’t it depressing?’” she says. “And I say, ‘Absolutely not.’ That is mainly due to the atmosphere at Malachi House and the staff and residents. Believe it or not, on some days it can be a lot of fun.”

Malachi House is planning a major fundraising drive and hopes to continue helping the terminally ill not by adding more beds, but by adding land for a garden and perhaps a cookout spot.

“With more than 15 beds, you begin to look like an institution and act like an institution. And that’s not going to happen,” O’Neill says.

How to reach: Malachi House, (216) 621-8831 or www.malachihouse.org