By BRADLEY ZINT     9/27/2023

Fullerton’s three Catholic parishes have launched a new endeavor aimed at providing residents the funding to acquire an apartment, pay down high-interest payday loans and cover other financial emergencies, such as medical bills or auto repairs.

The Michael Clements Miniloan Program — named after the late Fullerton activist known for helping farm workers, working-class Latinos and at-risk populations — will also include financial literacy education and budget creation. The loans, which range from $500 to $7,500, have terms as long as five years. They’re set at 2% interest and are backed by the Notre Dame Federal Credit Union (NDCU).

Organizers hope the loans will prevent homelessness and other related issues that have plagued many communities in the north Orange County region.

The Michael Clements Miniloan Program was announced on Sept. 14 at the HopeCenter in Fullerton before a group of more than 30 supporters, including Catholic priests and other interfaith representatives.

“We want to take another piece of the puzzle and try to find a solution,” said Robert Dietterle, one of the program organizers and a member of St. Juliana Falconieri parish.

Applicants will be screened by the three conferences of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Fullerton’s Catholic churches: St. Philip Benizi, St. Mary and St. Juliana Falconieri.
Brea Police Chief Adam Hawley, a lifelong Catholic and Servite High School graduate, said he hopes these loans can keep people off the streets. His police department, like many others, handles homeless calls, but police are admittedly not the best at providing the help people need.

“We want to work on taking policing out of this homelessness business,” Hawley said.

Though they don’t have to provide a complete credit history or demonstrate a certain debt-to-income ratio, proof of income will be required of applicants. They do not have to be Catholic or a member of Fullerton’s parishes.

Applicants will be found from a variety of sources, including the parishes, other churches, local food pantries, service providers, landlords and neighbors.

“We’re called to treat our neighbors with compassion, with love,” said Deacon Tom Saenz, who heads the Diocese’s permanent diaconate office and has been working on the program at his home parish, St. Juliana Falconieri.

The ecumenical program has received about $40,000 in donations, $10,000 of which came from the Diocese of Orange. Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee’s office has also committed $10,000.

The program is looking to have $100,000 in donations by the end of the first year.

The gifts comprise the principal that NDCU uses for making loans. The loan payments rebuild the capital account at NDCU. The paid-up loans replenish the
oan pool, and then new loans are issued.

Clements, a devout Catholic who died in 2022 at age 76, explored joining the priesthood in his youth but ultimately spread the social gospel in other profound ways. His efforts in California included advocating for field workers in the Central Valley during the era of César Chávez, drug-abuse counseling in La Habra, helping students with disabilities and forming the Catholic Church-affiliated Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO). He was also an IAF (Industrial Areas Foundation) community organizer involved in various community campaigns for almost 30 years.

The Michael Clements Miniloan Program is currently accepting applications and donations.

For more information or to donate, call 657-243-6119 or visit