Campaign Life Coalition’s national office suffered a double loss recently when two of its most long-serving and dedicated volunteers passed away.

Mary Colangelo died on March 8 at the Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga at the age of 91, while Joe Grzywna died suddenly on Feb. 22 at the Toronto East General Hospital in his early 40s. Both had been helping out at CLC for some two decades.

Office manager Deny Dieleman said Colangelo began as a paid employee, organizing fundraising pilgrimages to places such as the Shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec and Our Lady of Victory Basilica and National Shrine in Lackawanna, N.Y. She was very effective at it, attracting large numbers of people and raising significant funds for CLC.

Dieleman recalled Colangelo used to lightheartedly encourage pilgrimage participants to take the little inconveniences of the excursions in stride, noting that: “At pilgrimages, you have to suffer.”

Colangelo continued to work with the pilgrimages as a volunteer in subsequent years and up until almost the end of her life, even though it had become more difficult for her to get about and required the assistance of another person. She had also handled memorial donations, sending out acknowledgements, condolences and thank-you notes to families of the deceased, and oversaw volunteer staff for a time.

Dieleman recalled Colangelo’s diligent attention to economy, noting that she was known to use blank sheets of paper, draw writing lines on them herself and then fix any aberrations with whiteout fluid. Colangelo would also joust playfully with former deskmate and Interimsalesperson Dolores Toth over the cleanliness of their respective sides of the desk.

A young widow after her husband Anthony died tragically in a workplace fire shortly after their marriage, Colangelo had no children, but did have nieces whom she would visit regularly. Before joining CLC, she worked as a quality inspector for the film industry, ensuring that the best reels of feature movies were sent to city theatres, with lesser-quality reels sent to smaller population centres.

“She was very dedicated to the cause,” said Dieleman. “Even though well past retirement age, she continued to want to come in and do her part.”

Grzywna, who had a form of autism, helped with numerous tasks around the CLC national office, from stuffing envelopes to identifying people in old photographs to running errands and other general duties.

“He was very good at identifying people we didn’t know in old photographs,” said Dieleman. “He would get them right off the bat. He was amazing at remembering that kind of stuff.”

Grzywna’s sharp memory was confirmed by Interim columnist and fellow Knight of Columbus Frank Kennedy, who said he often relied on the man three decades his junior to remind him of key things he had forgotten.

“He was the kind of guy I could ask about a detail that had slipped my mind and he could come up with it just like that. He was like a memory bank. You didn’t think he could remember something, but he did. He could straighten me out on various facts … He was most helpful in a lot of ways.”

“Joe liked to talk in the office – sometimes too much,” laughed Dieleman. “He just loved to associate with people and he knew what the (life) issue was about. He wasn’t here just because he wanted to fill his time up. He was here because he believed in the cause, just like his father and brother.”

In recent years, Grzywna also volunteered at the office of the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area.
Kennedy added Grzywna, a devout Catholic, was a dedicated Knight of Columbus, who would stand in rain or cold to be picked up for the drive over to their local council’s monthly meetings.

“He was always at a picket. He was always trying to do what he could do,” said Kennedy. “He was a wonderful guy. The Knights of Columbus were very pleased to have him.”

Fellow volunteer Bruce McDowell recalled how he used to trade jokes with Grzywna over the “opulent” salary the two of them were paid for their Friday work. “We worked together. We joked together. We agreed that ‘those other people’ work Monday to Thursday, but we would come in on Friday to clean up the week and correct their mistakes … I will miss him.”

Grzywna’s brother Stan credited Joe with helping care for their mother when she came down with multiple sclerosis while they were in their teens. “After Joe completed high school, he stayed home with our mother … When my mother was bedridden, Joe assisted her by lifting her up and putting her in her wheelchair … God was using one (intellectually) disabled person to help one (physically) disabled person.”

Grzywna continued to visit his mother, and other patients, regularly when she was confined to the Providence Centre long-term care facility in Toronto until her death in 1998 and continued to visit other patients after that time. In this and many other ways, said Stan, Joe was faithful to what God had called him to do.

Single, Grzywna is survived by sister Joanne in addition to brother Stan. The family has requested that donations in his memory be made to Campaign Life Coalition, Providence Centre or the charity of one’s choice.