September 9, 2016

Benedict sisters to honor local women as ‘Angels of Grace’

By Natalie Hoefer

Throughout the Bible, three archangels are listed by name: Gabriel, messenger of good news to Mary and Zechariah; Michael, defender of heaven; and Raphael, the traveling companion of Tobias.

For the last nine years, the Sisters of St. Benedict of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove have identified three local women who have heroically served in the roles of messenger, defender and companion, and recognized their service with an “Angels of Grace” award.

This year’s recipients are Little Wish Foundation founder Liz Niemiec for the “messenger” Archangel Gabriel Award; Cathedral Kitchen longtime volunteer Dee Morley for the “defender” Archangel Michael Award; and Haven Women’s Ministry founder Carol Naragon for the “companion” Archangel Raphael Award.

These women will receive their award on Sept. 24 at a fashion show and luncheon fundraiser honoring all women, and benefiting women’s programs at the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center in Beech Grove.

Here are the stories of this year’s messenger, defender and companion.

Archangel Gabriel Award winner Liz Niemiec

Liz NiemiecLiz Niemiec was just a sophomore in high school in Michigan City, Ind., when she learned a life-altering lesson: little things make a big difference.

She learned the lesson from the adopted son of a teacher from her Catholic grade school. She saw how young Max, who was dying of cancer, brimmed over with joy when his parents gave him a puppy.

“I saw what a big impact that made on his life,” she says. “It made him really happy.”

Max died on March 17, 2010, after a two-and-a-half year battle with disease.

“At his wake, it was upsetting, and I felt the need to act,” Niemiec recalls. “I remembered how something so little made him so happy. I knew I could do little things to make other little kids with cancer happy.”

She decided she wanted to start a non-profit organization to grant little wishes to children with cancer.

“My mom blew it off at first,” she says. “I kept pushing. I kept bothering her every day. Finally she called a lawyer [who] made everything legal and OK to raise money and make it a foundation.”

In May of 2010, then-17-year-old Liz founded Little Wish Foundation.

As the name suggests, the non-profit organization focuses on the smaller gifts that may bring a suffering child joy or hope—a laptop, iPad or Xbox, concert tickets, spa treatments, pretty dresses and much more.

Since its founding in 2010, Little Wish Foundation has expanded to serve pediatric cancer patients at six hospitals in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Chicago and Los Angeles—the latter hospital through the sponsorship of Lids hat company. According to the non-profit’s website,, 593 little wishes have been granted to date.

Niemiec managed to grow the foundation while finishing high school and then while attending Butler University in Indianapolis. She graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in non-profit administration.

The 23-year-old operates the non-profit out of her mother’s home in Noblesville, where as a recent graduate she is searching for a parish to call home. She will soon take over as chief operating officer of Little Wish Foundation, while her mother serves as chief executive officer.

Like the Archangel Gabriel—who happens to be Niemiec’s confirmation patron—the young entrepreneur sees herself as a herald, but with a two-fold message.

“I’m definitely a messenger of bringing little things to kids to make them happy,” she says. “That’s the basic mission of what I do and want to do.

“But even more so, I’m a messenger to other kids my age and younger. I’m a good role model for them, helping them understand that little things can make a difference, and little things add up.”

Archangel Michael Award winner Dee Morley

Dee MorleyLike the Archangel Michael for whom her award is named, 82-year-old Dee Morley is a defender.

For 20 years, she defended the survival of the homeless one spoonful of soup at a time at the Cathedral Kitchen behind SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Her service started as part of a team of soup kitchen volunteers from her home parish of St. Malachy in Brownsburg. The group volunteered once a week.

Two years after her involvement with the team, Morley’s husband passed away.

“I said, ‘God, what do you want me to do next?’ The need was so great down there [at the soup kitchen], it was an easy decision. I just want to help my brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Early on in her 20 years of volunteering, the plumbing at the soup kitchen had problems. Consequently, the clients had to be served outdoors.

In order to feed the homeless during that time, says Morley, “I made pots of soup at home. Before I knew it, I was coming five days a week.”

After picking up food orders at a Kroger in Brownsburg, she would arrive at the soup kitchen around 7 a.m. and remain until around noon.

When volunteering, Morley says she would do “anything and everything” that was needed. Stopping at grocery stores to pick up donations, preparing and cooking casseroles and soups, cleaning up after helping feed around 150 souls each day—nothing was off limits for Morley.

But her favorite form of service was getting to know the clients.

“You have this rapport with the people that come down there. You see all walks of life—those just released from the hospital or a mental institution or jail. But they still have the need to be fed and the need for encouragement to live straight.

“There’s a gentleman who’s been living around the place under a bridge or in a corner somewhere as long as I’ve been volunteering,” she says. “One winter, he lived in a cardboard box. It just breaks my heart to see that. People shouldn’t have to live that way. You bring them extra blankets and try to help them as much as you can. It’s a different lifestyle.”

Eventually Morley—a mother of four, grandmother of two and great-grandmother of one—cut back her service to three days a week. In March, she officially “retired” from volunteering at the soup kitchen—sort of.

“I’m supposed to be retired, but I still go down maybe one day a week or so,” she admits. “[The homeless] have such a hard life, out in hot weather and cold weather. You have to have a lot of sympathy. You just can’t walk away from that.”

Archangel Raphael Award winner Carol Naragon

Carol NaragonAfter being wed at age 17, raising four children and being married for 35 years, Carol Naragon was shocked to find herself living alone as a divorced woman in her 50s.

The member of Emmanuel Church of Greenwood says she “started praying about what to do. I still felt young enough to give, but I never went to college.”

The answer soon became clear.

“While I was married, we were on a board of an unwed mothers’ home in Greenwood,” she says. “I used to get the girls, bring them home. If they needed to make money, we would iron and clean. I didn’t realize I was mentoring the girls. …

“I felt the Lord say, ‘I gave you that passion. Now you don’t have a husband and four kids to look after—you have time.’ I started getting excited. I felt like I had some direction.”

Naragon began to envision a home for unwed mothers. She hired an organizational coach, and together they did research to assess what population had the greatest needs.

“We found that 19-24 year-old single moms were the fastest segment of homelessness growing in the U.S.,” she says. “And we found out that there wasn’t any transitional housing for these women in Greenwood.”

Thus began the all-volunteer-operated Haven Women’s Ministry in Greenwood in 2007.

According to the non-profit’s website,, the goal of the organization is to “provide a way for these women to meet the needs of their families.” They do this by providing financial help, child care, household items, toiletries, clothing, Bible study and more to roughly 30-35 women ages 18 and older at any given time.

With the donation by Greenwood Wesleyan Church of their unused parsonage two-and-a-half years ago, the ministry has been able to house three families.

“It’s not a handout, it’s not a shelter,” says Naragon. “It’s a home, and they can stay two years.

“They take ownership—they pay a little rent, one-third of the utilities, they clean. It teaches them to budget, and all the girls go through a financial program.”

Just as the Archangel Raphael served as a traveling companion to Tobias, so Naragon, 60, is a traveling companion with the women she serves, journeying with them to meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

“I walk alongside of them as a friend,” says the remarried non-profit founder, who is now the mother of six and grandmother of 15. “Although I never went through anything like these girls went through, I couldn’t stay in my home [after the divorce] because I couldn’t afford it, so I felt that devastation of being left alone. I feel like I can connect with them.

“God told the Church to visit widows and orphans [Jas 1:27]. I want to provide the place for that to happen. I will run the mission if [churches] will support it.

“Our motto is we want to be a hand up and not a hand out. I just want to show [these women] love and be a helping hand.”

(The Angels of Grace fundraiser and luncheon will be held at Primo Banquet Hall & Conference Center, 2615 National Ave., in Indianapolis, from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sept. 24. Tickets are $35 per person, or $260 for a table of eight. Fashions by The Secret Ingredient will be modeled and available for purchase, with 10 percent of proceeds going toward women’s programs at the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center in Beech Grove. The event includes raffles for gift baskets and a week’s stay at a home on Lake Michigan. For reservations or questions, contact the Benedict Inn at 317-788-7581 or

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