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Kathleen Duncan

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Kathleen Duncan-Luten thinks back to the essence of the mission for the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation – her grandparents’ non-profit organization started in 1952. It focused on a deep commitment to the values and generosity of helping others in need.

The values ring as true to her now as they did when she first started attending those foundation board meetings, making decisions how to continue paying it forward with the family’s endowments.

“We would have those meetings around my grandmother’s dining room table, with my dad as the chair, with all these stacks of paperwork – all about wanting to do the right thing,” said Duncan-Luten. “I might not have understood that mission as much in my early 20s, but now it really has cemented how we gave back and how important it was to carry on their legacy.”

As a result of her prolific work in the community, Kathleen Duncan-Luten becomes the first and only Cardinal’s Award third-generation recipient. After her grandmother Dorothy Leavey was an honoree in the first group in 1990, her mother, Kathleen Leavey McCarthy Kostlan, was recognized in 2004.

“What an honor to be with my mom and grandmother,” said Duncan-Luten.

“It didn’t occur to me that it was unique, all this as a generation passed down three times,” said Kathleen Leavey McCarthy Kostlan. “It’s not something she wouldn’t do if she didn’t enjoy it. She’s very happy to serve everywhere she can. This is a wonderful tribute to her ability to hang in and I’m just happy to be part of it.”

A longtime parishioner at St. Paul the Apostle in Westwood, Duncan-Luten has responded to her community’s needs by joining the board of trustees for many organizations – most notably the Catholic Education Foundation of Los Angeles, which is chaired by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.

“Kathleen comes from an incredible family — the most gracious, generous, kind people, very down to earth, with a love to help others,” says Doug Cooper, the executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation and a long-time friend of the family. “It’s in Kathleen’s DNA, making the world a better place.”

Kathleen Duncan-Luten grew up Westwood, the second of four children, and never far from either sets of grandparents – the Leaveys in Beverly Hills and the McCarthys in Santa Monica.

Although she graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a psychology degree, she felt a calling to teach. Obtaining her credential at Mount St. Mary’s at age 28, she first taught at Marymount Junior School. She then went on to teach fifth grade math and science at St. Paul the Apostle.

“I hear back from a student who says, Miss McCarthy, it was all about how you helped me at a certain time in my life, and you realize how you are shaping the kids in who they are, how the Catholic influence and the whole person is just as important as the classroom lessons,” said Duncan-Luten.

“It was more about life experience and giving them perspective and a way to navigate things. With a Catholic education, it’s an ethic of working hard and being there to do the job. I’ve always told my kids — Show up, be on time, do your part, the teachers want to help.”

Her support continues in Catholic education, including Loyola Marymount University, Mount St. Mary’s University, Santa Clara University (where her daughter Kara and son Alex graduated), Loyola High School in L.A. (her son’s Alex and Patrick’s alma mater), and The Caruso Catholic Center at U.S.C (where her son Patrick graduated).

She is also connected to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the California Science Center and the Doheny Eye Institute.

Kara Duncan, the oldest of Kathleen’s children, does non-profit work as the senior manager of client relations for Catholic Community Foundation of Los Angeles. She confirms that her mother “truly is so selfless with her time and energy, and for as long as I can remember she has taught my brothers and I the importance of always giving back and helping those who need it.”

Kara Duncan says her mother “has always taught me to show compassion and understanding for people who are suffering or in-need, and that one of the important things I can do is be kind to everyone. She has especially always led by example — not only through her support of the Church and nonprofit causes she cares about, but also in everyday life through her interactions with everyone. My great grandmother and grandmother have always led by example, and I think my mom is a product of that.

“I’ve always felt very passionate about helping others and I think that stems from the values I was taught and how my parents modeled those values, especially my mom. I think her example really made an impact on how I moved through life and led to me where I am today.”