The Annual Bishop’s Appeal, with $6,598,000 pledged thus far in the 2020-21 period, looks to be the largest total, noncapital campaign collection of the appeal to date.
Parishes of the diocese may feel that the good news is particularly a blessing for them. Indeed it is. Lowered parish ABA goals for 2020-21, precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and combined with an unexpected and marked increase in generosity and cost-cutting measures at the diocesan level, means that a record $1.5 million of the pledged amount will be returned to parishes for current and new programs, community outreach, technology upgrades, scholarships and other needs.
Usually, parish ABA goals increase slightly from year-to-year, but 2020-21 was far from usual. With the pandemic bearing down, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend chose to not only forgo an increase in 2020-21 goals but to reduce them by a total of $490,000 from 2019-20. Then, record giving took place. The combination resulted in a larger-than-normal amount — $1.56 million — being returned to parishes to help them cope with life post-COVID-19.
Pledges will continue to be paid until December and are expected to inch the final total to just over $6.6. million.
Secretary of Stewardship and Development Jeff Boetticher noted that there have been years in which the total amount pledged to the ABA campaign was actually higher, but those totals included capital campaigns that were rolled into the appeal in some parishes.
The total amount pledged this year reflects a 2.5% percent increase over 2019-20, which was a 6.7% over 2018-19.
The number of new donors also increased in 2020-21: Almost 2,500 households contributed for the first time, 18.3% more than during the 2019-20 appeal.
Boetticher credits pastors of the diocese with making a concerted effort to share news about this year’s Annual Bishops Appeal during a time when the methods of communication that had worked in the past were suddenly much less effective. Fewer people in the pews, due the pandemic, forced the use of new methods: Many parishes posted the ABA video on their website or emailed it to parishioners. Also for the first time, a letter from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades about the Annual Bishops Appeal was mailed directly to all Catholic households in the diocese.
“It is the Year of St. Joseph, and our patron saint is keeping us under the protection of his cloak,” said Father Evaristo Olivera, whose Fort Wayne parish of St. Joseph is seeing a significant increase from 2019-20’s $1,743.67 parish overage.
“The openness to help and share with others, especially during this challenging time of pandemic causing many of our own to be sick, out of jobs and suffering the loss of a dear one in the family. Despite the additional economic stress our families still graciously answered the call to spread the light of God’s love! I am overwhelmed by this generosity.” The funds will help cover the costs associated with replacing a cooling system; improving accessibility and security to the parish hall, which is in the church basement; and possibly providing easier and more convenient access to the church main entrance.
“Spreading the light of God’s love,” the theme for this year’s Annual Bishop’s Appeal, seemed to appeal to Catholics who were feeling the darkness of not being able to go Mass, distancing from loved ones for an extended period of time and living in fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus, said Boetticher. The ABA video, which featured a moving homily by Vicar General Father Mark Gurtner, has been described to Boetticher as “powerful” and “timely.”
“Our diocesan parishioners gave more than they ever have before and they gave it early in the ABA season, easing the minds of pastors and facilitating parish financial planning,” said Boetticher. “God has truly blessed us with their generosity!”
Also among the parishes rejoicing in a significantly larger-than-normal amount of funds returned from the ABA are Christ the King Parish in South Bend and SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Huntington.
“Even with all the challenges that so many of our parishioners have faced this past year, they still kept up their giving to the appeal, which says an awful lot about their commitment to the parish and the diocese,” said Father Steve Lacroix of Christ the King. “The parish incurred extra expenses due to the pandemic, and income from collections and tuition has been affected by the pandemic as well. The over-goal amount that we receive will go a long way toward offsetting these losses so that our parish staff can keep the parish running smoothly. I feel so blessed to have such dedicated and faith-filled parishioners,” he said.
The unexpected level of generosity from donors at SS. Peter and Paul pushed the parish over its goal by the largest amount, compared to other parishes of the diocese. The temporary suspension of Masses in the spring and continued distance from the liturgy by those with ongoing concerns for their health may have prompted additional giving as a way to make up for not being able to put an envelope in the collection basked, or a way to share blessings with the less fortunate during a year of adversity, pastor Father Tony Steinacker surmised.
A portion of the money returned to SS. Peter and Paul will be given to the Catholic Community Foundation to enrich an endowment that benefits the parish and Huntington Catholic School, said Father Steinacker. It will also offer the parish the ability to continue providing subscriptions to Formed.org and to make available the Word on Fire program by Bishop Robert Barron, as well as ensure the continuation of a free vacation Bible school each summer. Maintenance and improvements to the historic church will be facilitated, and some of the funds will be directed to continuing the parish’s outreach to those in material or spiritual need. Additionally, it will fund a new scholarship to Huntington Catholic School — which the parish supports in conjunction with St. Mary Parish — in memory of former teacher and director of religious education Dan DeLaGrange.
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