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God’s Money

A History of Planned Philanthropy


In 2022, the Scanlan Foundation celebrates its 75th birthday, a milestone it shares with the University of St. Thomas.  

Born to a deeply faithful Irish Catholic father, the last of eight daughters, Stella and Lillian Scanlan, left their inheritance to a foundation that bears their name. The resources therein would further Roman Catholic religious, charitable and educational purposes within the State of Texas. 

Mass of Thanksgiving Planned 

On January 25, 2022, at downtown’s Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the Scanlan Foundation celebrated three-quarters of a century of philanthropic giving with a Mass of Thanksgiving. A family fortune estimated at $4 million has grown to nearly $250 million with $150 million awarded in grants. The Foundation serves all 15 bishops in the Dioceses of Texas. His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, as other Galveston-Houston bishops before him, serves on the Scanlan Foundation board. 

“The Scanlan Foundation is one-of-a-kind,” Larry Massey, the eighth Scanlan Foundation president, said. “It is a foundation in Houston that is unique in that it is a supporting organization of the Church and that 100 percent of its grants go to Catholic entities—ministries, schools or dioceses.

“One of our directors nicknamed our philanthropic giving ‘God’s Money,’ and the name stuck,” Massey said. “Each year, all the directors are humbled and amazed by this generous gift to the Roman Catholic Church of Texas.” 

Cardinal DiNardo said, “Since its inception, the Scanlan Foundation has been a source of support for the Church’s mission to make Jesus Christ known to all the world—beginning in Texas. I am proud that the University of St. Thomas continues to embrace this mission as a grateful beneficiary of the enduring generosity of Lillian and Stella Scanlan.” 

Growing God’s Money 

Before amassing his fortune, Thomas “Tim” Howe Scanlan was a small boy who left Ireland during the potato famine with his family. They were hungry and needy. Fast forward to 1853, when this adventurous man found his way to Houston, Texas, a swampy city with grand ambitions just like his.

From selling pocketknives on the corner to becoming Mayor of Houston in 1870, Scanlan’s climb to wealth and fame was wildly entrepreneurial. He saw an abundant opportunity in this new territory. The young man started water and gas companies and became a successful merchant. As his reputation grew, he was named Postmaster General of Houston by President Ulysses S. Grant. All the while, Scanlan worshiped faithfully and helped foster the growing Catholic community in Houston by helping start Annunciation Church, the oldest Church in Houston.  

When Tim Scanlan passed away in 1906, he was the second-richest man in Houston, a status noted in his obituary but lost in Houston’s history. He surely felt the stigma of being Irish Catholic in his lifetime, but he remained very active in the city’s civic affairs.

Stella and Lillian’s holdings grew as oil was flowing on the Scanlan’s west Texas land. In 1950, before Stella passed away, she signed royalty agreements with Occidental Petroleum to pump oil out of the ground in the sought-after bullseye of the Permian Basin. They earned an average of $1-$1.5 million per year, all of which went into the Foundation. 

Daughters Set Stage for Philanthropic Giving to UST 

An introduction to the new, fledgling University of St. Thomas was made by Bishop Christopher Byrne of the Galveston Diocese to Lillian and Stella started the friendship. Both sisters loved the University from the outset and gave money to its new Memorial Library. Their ultimate expression of support was to bequeath a planned gift to UST in 1950.

“For the last 75 years, the Scanlan family has demonstrated an incredible commitment to furthering the Catholic faith across Texas through the Scanlan Foundation,” UST’s Director of Planned Giving, Lorin Crater, said. “During their lifetime, the Scanlan family enriched the city of Houston tremendously; however, their love for the University of St. Thomas is a true hallmark of their philanthropic legacy today. Their planned gift of $5,000 per year (equivalent to $60,000 annually today) was one of the first-ever documented estate gifts to UST. And, the funds were a gift of financial stability when UST most needed it.” 

Throughout its storied history, the Scanlan Foundation has cumulatively awarded UST with nearly $9 million in grants. The Foundation grants has established endowed faculty chairs, scholarships, funded programs, support initiatives and invested in the Catholicity of the University. 

“The University of St. Thomas is deeply grateful for the Scanlan family’s enduring Caritas through its foundation,” UST President Richard Ludwick said. “The monetary support is just a visible sign of the stronger, lasting relationship between the Scanlans and UST. Both share a common love—to advance human flourishing with innovative, Catholic initiatives. As we grow, living out this shared purpose, may God’s light shine brighter and bolder on our human family.” 

UST announces the Lillian & Stella Scanlan Society 

“We are delighted to honor the Scanlan sisters for their philanthropic planning and commitment to Catholic higher education at St. Thomas and, therefore, are rebranding the Heritage Club as the Lillian & Stella Scanlan Society. May the sisters’ legacy live on in perpetuity with UST,” said Dawn Koenning, UST’s chief development officer.  

Massey added, “If you are thinking about leaving a planned gift, this is how you leave a lasting legacy. The Scanlans’ thoughtful planning 75 years ago is a sustainable wellspring today, benefiting the future of Catholic education and people. We are talking enormous impact on faith, country and Church. That is what it is all about.”  

About the Author — Sandra Soliz, MLA '01 Soliz

AvatarSandra Soliz, director of Communications for University of St. Thomas, has served the University for 20 years in Marketing Communications Department. In her position, she handles media relations and serves as the editor of the Encounter Magazine.

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