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Living A Life In Service To Others

Kitty Sullivan Wo receives an update on the renovation work being done at St. Francis Healthcare System’s K~puna Village in Liliha from president and CEO Jerry Correa and chairwoman of the board Sister M. Davilyn Ah Chick.

Few personify the spirit of altruistic aloha better than philanthropist Kitty Sullivan Wo, this year’s recipient of the St. Francis of Assisi Spirit Award.

Women have always played an important role in philanthropy and social consciousness. They are traditionally seen as volunteers, but women are beginning to be recognized as influential donors and decision-makers.

St. Francis Healthcare System’s awarding of its annual St. Francis of Assisi Spirit honor is an opportunity to explore local philanthropic leadership and charity traditions. Female benefactors might be rarely singled out, but those faces of altruistic aloha deserve the spotlight.

That is particularly so as St. Francis recognizes Kitty Sullivan Wo as the 2018 recipient of its St. Francis of Assisi Spirit Award, which will be presented to her from 5:30 to 9 p.m. July 21 at Hilton Hawaiian Village‘s Coral Ballroom.

We owe a lot to women such as Queen Emma, Bernice Pauahi Bishop, Mother Marianne Cope and the Sisters of St. Francis for the significant social change they made.

Wo’s father, Maurice “Sully” Sullivan, goes over plans with St. Francis personnel during a bygone era.

Wo is cut from the same cloth. Her supporters hail her as a model philanthropist who lives her faith in service to others and fulfills a familial legacy of caring for the community. And yet, all the fuss being made about her contributions to the St. Francis Foundation and to the community at large comes as a “shock” to her.

“It’s not about me,” she asserts. “It’s about having shared values for the betterment of the community. If my participation helps raise the credibility and visibility of an organization and its mission, then I’m happy to be an ambassador.”

Aloha comes back, she professes. As Saint Francis declared, “For it is in giving that we receive.”


It is a common trait of philanthropists. They don’t flaunt generosity of time and money for recognition. Gratification comes in being a catalyst for positive change and results.

In Wo’s case, there is a natural affinity for Catholic causes based on her parental upbringing.

Her father is the late Maurice “Sully” Sullivan, founder of Foodland Super Market. Her mother is the late Joanna Sullivan, who devotedly supported her husband’s philanthropic deeds.

Wo finds her place next to the statue of St Francis. ANTHONY CONSILLIO PHOTO

Thanks to the Sullivan family’s dedication to Sully’s business and social responsibility principles, organizations such as Saint Francis Foundation and Chaminade University have benefitted from generations of sustained support.

Wo, owner-director of the Sullivan Family of Companies that includes Foodland, Food Pantry and other enterprises, has served on the St. Francis Healthcare System (SFHS) and Foundation boards for the past 20 years. She also is past chairwoman of Chaminade University, Punahou School, Hawai‘i Rotary Youth Foundation and Honolulu Museum of Art.

She’s as adept in board-rooms directing nonprofits and retail businesses as she is on a tennis court and preparing award-winning entries for The Garden Club of Honolulu. She’s a woman for all seasons.


“I am blessed to have had two extraordinary parents who were living examples of what it is to be a humanitarian and philanthropist,” Wo says. “I also am able to give as much time as I do to the community because of the support of (my husband) Buzz and my daughters (Maurisa, Liza and Emma).”

Both the Sullivan and Wo families have figured prominently in her personal values and identity.

Jerry Correa, SFHS president and CEO, acknowledges, “It is through the volunteer support and generosity of lifelong partners like Mrs. Sullivan Wo that we continue to service Hawai‘i’s people.”

He recalls that Wo was involved as a child when her parents raised funds to purchase radiation therapy equipment in the 1960s. It was the start of a special and lasting relationship between the Sullivan family and the Sisters of St. Francis.

Sister M. Davilyn Ah Chick, SFHS board chairwoman, says, “The Sullivans are inspiring examples of how each of us can make a positive difference in our lifetime. It’s touching to see families carry on a tradition of freely giving to others, from one generation to the next.”


Wo vividly recalls when her epiphany took place.

“I remember talking to my father when I was 9 or 10 years old and asking him what was the purpose of our being here and what we should be doing,” she says. “He told me that we are here to make the world a better place. It crystallized how I should live.”

Her sister, Jenai Sullivan Wall, chairman-CEO of Foodland Super Market, underscores the family’s mantra, saying, “You have to take care of people. Leadership begins with a genuine desire to help others and is predicated on strong relationships, not control.”

Fellow philanthropist Dr. Lawrence Tseu comments, “I‘ve known Kitty for many years, and she is always so sweet, pleasant and generous with worthy causes. Kitty emulates her mother, Joanna Sullivan. Like mother, like daughter.”

Being a community role model means inspiring others to pick up the mantle of social consciousness.

Wo, a Punahou School and University of Pacific graduate, says, “I am encouraged that so many of our school curriculums include a service component. Not only does this help young people to develop compassion, but it helps them to address real-world problems that make learning more enduring. Young people are developing a voice and passion for social activism.”

She is right.

According to a study by the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, there is a trend toward more democratized and diversified philanthropy as well as collaborative funding (giving together).

It reports that gen-Xers and millennials with the capacity for unprecedented wealth and major giving will likely be the most significant generation of philanthropists in history. While most giving is local and likely to remain so for a long time, in an increasingly connected world, the study projects the spread of shared, formal philanthropic practices across borders.

“Hawai‘i is a very giving, very generous community,” Wo reflects. “Per capita, giving is among the highest in the nation. Aloha spirit defines us.

“My hope is that we do not lose who we are,” she says. “Hawai‘i is unique with a culture that binds us and grounds us. Without aloha spirit, Hawai‘i becomes homogenized into the larger world society and loses distinction. Aloha should not be an empty promise but a core value.”

If you’re Kitty Sullivan Wo, altruistic aloha is a way of life.


Becoming a philanthropist, someone who donates time, money and/or reputation to charitable causes, can be a very rewarding thing. Here are tips on how to go from passion to purpose.

1. Determine what’s important to you. What is your philanthropic purpose? What issues matter most to you? What is your vision for the community or the world?

2. Develop a plan. Enhance your knowledge of the issues you choose. Be willing to learn continuously from your experiences. Education is engagement.

3. Problem-solve the infrastructure. Look for underlying problems in infrastructure and seek to change them. Want to increase access to public transportation? Improve access to services in rural areas? Whatever it is, tap your creative, problem-solving spirit.

4. Gauge participation. Determine your ideal level and type of engagement, while inspiring the participation of others. Is it volunteering, granting financial support, collaborating and partnering with others to spread awareness?

5. Evaluate and measure success. There is accountability of the cause as well as philanthropy. Measure progress and effectiveness in achieving goals, and adjust giving strategy accordingly so your commitment is both successful and satisfying.

Sources: U.S. Trust philanthropic consultants and wikiHow.


The St. Francis of Assisi Spirit Award Gala on July 21 at Hilton Hawaiian Village raises funds for the transformation of the Liliha campus into the St. Francis Kūpuna Village, set to open in early 2019. The ambitious project culminates a 135-year legacy of caring by Hawai‘i’s only Catholic health care system.

Over the years, SFHS has introduced many new health procedures and services to Hawai‘i. Having established the first transplant center, St. Francis conducted many “first” transplant surgeries including kidney (1960s), bone marrow (1970s), heart (1980s), liver and pancreas (1990s).

St. Francis also developed the first renal dialysis service (1960s) and Hawai‘i’s first freestanding hospice inpatient facility.

St. Francis’ Kūpuna Village is Hawai‘i’s first one-stop health and wellness center to support seniors, their caregivers and family members.

“We would not be able to dream big and step out confidently in faith without the support of donors who have stood by us as we have evolved over the years,” says Jerry Correa, SFHS chief executive officer.

For information on the St. Francis of Assisi Spirit Award Gala, visit stfrancishawaii.org or call 292-1105.