August 24, 2010 // Uncategorized

History of the Annual Bishop’s Appeal

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades explains the meaning of his diocesan coat of arms to those gathered for the Annual Bishop’s Appeal kickoff dinner at the Grand Wayne Center in Fort Wayne on Thursday, Aug. 19.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades kindly asked me to write an article on the history of the Annual Bishop’s Appeal and its importance for the mission of the Church in our diocese. I welcome the opportunity. As I recall how the appeal unfolded, I am struck at how quickly this initiative became not only a fundraiser, but an instrument of evangelization and a means of what the Church calls “communio.” This is a central work of the bishop — to bring people together in Christ.

Also, from the beginning it was directed to help the parish, lifting a burden and awakening new resources to strengthen the life of the parish.

In my first months as a bishop, I was approached by priests who explained to me the great burden of the system in place: A 13 percent tax on all income: Collections, fundraisers, school tuition. I remember Fathers John Suelzer and Bob Epping, CSC, and I recall an important and courageous public intervention by Father John Pfister.

Quickly, we formed a committee of 10 priests and six laity under the dynamic chairmanship of Father Bill Schooler. They met over many months at various parishes.

Having received their report, I met with them at Sacred Heart Parish, Warsaw. I told them I accepted their report completely, with one admonition. The report advised that the bishop should be “out front” in the appeal. I promised I would be so, but told them this would not carry the day. The parish priest would have to be “out front.” If the priest made it his own and gave it his support, it would be successful. This, plus the fact that from the beginning the appeal was parish-oriented, represent the fundamental reasons why our effort brought such blessings and achieved widespread acceptance. Indeed from this past appeal alone $1 or $2 million is being returned to parishes which have exceeded their goal.

The appeal has brought us into closer communion with each other. Communion between priests and their bishop. Communion between priests and their advisors. Increased communion between our two major cities, created by alternating the leadership in the diocese each year. Communion and evangelization through the video, in which people see and support the work of the Church from one end of the diocese to the other.

Parish schools
The struggle to preserve and strengthen Catholic schools across the country is well known. As the appeal developed, assisting schools became a shared effort between the diocese and the parishes. I recall a meeting in Syracuse with priests, educators and business leaders. The priests, even though they would bear the burden suggested an effort to increase the appeal by one half million dollars, so that we could have a substantial increase in teachers’ salaries. It was achieved, and the partnership between the diocese and the parishes helping parish schools, grew rapidly and was strengthened later by the Legacy of Faith, which gives almost a million dollars every year to parishes with schools and returned over $9 million to all parishes.

The high schools
The subsidy previously given by the diocese to the high schools varied with enrollment. This presented serious budgeting problems. The four Catholic high schools, so beloved in our diocese and so important for many reasons including as a ground for vocations to the priesthood, have a special place among us. The appeal stabilized the finances of the high schools, provided funds for students who otherwise could not have attended our high schools, kept tuition increases moderate and secured the future of these educational gems.

A historic development
When the appeal began, the salaries of our teachers were inadequate. An adversarial relationship existed between the diocese and the teachers. We were losing teachers to the public schools. Sometimes a teacher would be with us two or three years and then go to the public schools. Often they would leave after a few weeks at the beginning of the school year. All this has changed.

In the past year, one could read about communities all over our diocese, laying off public school teachers and the freezing of salaries. This is regrettable and something which we hope will not continue. At the same time, we should note the situation in our schools. Because of the Annual Bishop’s Appeal and the Legacy of Faith, last year every full-time teacher in our schools received an increase of $800. In the year just beginning they will receive an increase of $900. No teachers have been dropped for financial reasons. This is a result of the generosity of our people to the Annual Bishop’s Appeal and the Legacy of Faith. It is important that this progress continue.

Strength even in the
economic downturn

In the last year, unemployment in some parts of our diocese, was over 18 percent and some of our communities were among the hardest hit in the nation.

Despite the severe economic downturn, the deepest and most prolonged since that of the Great Depression, our most recent Annual Bishop’s Appeal was the highest in history.

Here are the totals for the last three years:
• 2007-08: $5,542,447
• 2008-09: $5,568,513
• 2009-10: $5,745,113

How was all this possible in such difficult times? It is possible because our people love their faith, appreciate Catholic education, love their priests and want the Church to continue and grow.

Now the 24th appeal
The appeal just ahead of us takes on a special importance. For the first time in 25 years, we have a new bishop. He has left his home diocese to offer himself to Christ for us and for our diocese, and he has come with a spirit of dedication.

As I have done every year, I will increase my gift this year and will increase it by a larger amount than in the past. I hope all will do this as a welcome to the new bishop, but even more to help him build up the Church so the mission Christ has given to him and to us may be brought to fulfillment.

Our schools, the education of priests, our service to the poor, our ministry to young people, the care of retired priests and the strength of our parishes, depends on your generosity and mine. The call for generosity is from Christ. Let us be generous to Christ and his work, in response to the Lord’s generosity to us.

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