Special to The Dialog
Pledges more than $380,000 over last year’s target, parishioners’ generosity came amid major campaign
Catholics opened their hearts and pledged more than $4.7 million to the 2014 Annual Catholic Appeal to support the work of diocesan ministries and offices in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, surpassing last year’s target by almost $382,000.
The appeal’s success came even though its same pool of potential donors also gave more than $31 million to Sustaining Hope for the Future, a campaign aimed at helping the Diocese of Wilmington to get back on its feet following the 2011 bankruptcy settlement that resolved 150 claims of survivors of sexual abuse by priests. • ‘Elated and humbled’
“I’m elated and once again humbled by the continuing generosity of our people,” Bishop Malooly said. “They lived up to the theme of last year’s campaign, ‘Open Your Heart to Christ.’ As they opened their hearts, they became the face of Christ to more than 100,000 people who last year were served by the ministries and offices supported by the appeal.”
It is not unusual for dioceses to suspend annual appeals during major financial campaigns, but Bishop Malooly decided both were necessary.
Sustaining Hope was essential; the campaign was to re-energize the diocese and to take care of those who are doing the work – the priests and the laity who will get their pensions,” he said. “But at the same time we had to continue God’s work, following the example of Christ, which makes the Annual Catholic Appeal vital.” Sustaining Hope for the Future had a goal of $28 million. Of that, $10 million is targeted for the pension plan for former and some current lay employees; $3 million to strengthen the Trust for the Welfare and Retirement of Priests; $2 million to diocesan ministries, and $11.2 million to parish projects. The Annual Catholic Appeal provides funds that help more than 35 offices and ministries serve more than 100,000 people each year.
Catholics in the pew obviously agreed that both efforts were necessary.
Appeal officials froze the campaign goal at $4,347,000, the same as in 2013, because of the dual campaigns. Total pledges fell slightly, to $4,728,877 or 98.4 percent of 2013’s $4,807,235, but were still at 108.8 percent of goal. The total number of gifts and percentage collected followed that pattern, dipping to 16,660 gifts and 104.2 percent of goal collected from 17,692 and 105.7 percent, respectively, in 2013.
Other key aspects of the 2014 Annual Catholic Appeal:
Circle of Honor donors, who give $500 or more, pledged $2,876,934 in 2,600 gifts, or 60.8 percent of dollars pledged. The number of gifts was down by 21 from 2013, but the amount pledged rose by $27,064. Circle of Honor donors accounted for 15.6 percent of all donors.
Clergy made 54 gifts totaling $50,419, an average of $933.69. That was down 2.7 percent from 2013, when clergy pledged $51,760. The largest gift was $4,000.
There were 1,549 first-time donors who contributed $286,083, or 6 percent of total dollars pledged.
The average gift was $283.85, up from $271.72 in 2013. Gifts ranged from $1 to $50,000.
The diocesan participation rate was 26.4 percent, down slightly from 27.1 percent in 2013.
• Support for family life
While the numbers are important, the real story about the Annual Catholic Appeal rests in the work of the offices and ministries it supports. Nancy Burke, director of the Office for Marriage and Family Life, said the “generous support from parishioners throughout the diocese” allows her office to offer programs that prepare people for marriage and family life and provide support and spiritual enrichment programs as well as resource materials.
Her office provides marriage preparation, resources for families, programs for divorced, separated and widowed persons, and spiritual enrichment.
“We are not only very grateful, but encouraged that so many recognize and acknowledge the vital role of marriage and family – the basic unit and foundation of society,” she said. While participants may pay a fee for workshops, materials and other fees, “the events and programs offered provide assistance that may not be feasible for an individual parish. Financial support from the appeal allows the Office of Marriage and Family Life to provide guidance, teaching and directional support” for those programs.
“It’s heart-warming to know that the church is still a priority,” as shown by the Annual Catholic Appeal’s success, Burke said.
• Helping future deacons
Deacon Hal Jopp, director of the Office of Deacons, called the appeal’s success “critically important” to efforts to form new deacons. The need for deacon formation is two-fold, he said. First, many current deacons will turn 75, the mandatory retirement age, in the next few years and more deacons are needed to take their place. At the same time, he said, Bishop Malooly has told the deacons “that the diocese will inevitably rely ever more on their ministry in light of the diminished number of priests.”
The formation program for potential deacons has grown from two-and-one-half years to five, and now includes an affiliation with St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. Candidates travel to St. Meinrad’s for homiletics training. “This quality education comes at a price,” Jopp said.
Before the bankruptcy settlement the Office of Deacons was funded through grants from the Catholic Foundation. That foundation was significantly depleted when its board volunteered most of its funds to pay for the bankruptcy court settlement in 2011, so now Jopp’s office must rely on the diocese for funding, which makes the Annual Catholic Appeal vital.
Eight men are now halfway through the formation program, Jopp said. “Without the campaign’s success I don’t know how we would manage to see them to ordination.”
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the diaconate program in the Diocese of Wilmington. “Both the Annual Catholic Appeal and Sustaining Hope for the Future renew our sense of gratitude to the Catholics of the diocese,” Jopp said. “From my perspective, as director of the Office of Deacons, they are making an investment in the present and the future of the diaconate.
“The financial support provided by these two campaigns should help insure the formation of deacons well into the future. “