Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

 

It was a contrast in years. In 2018, Bishop Barry C. Knestout, having just been installed as the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, embarked upon his promoting the Annual Diocesan Appeal for the first time. He engaged people at receptions held throughout the diocese, and they responded to the vision he shared for the local Church.

“We had great momentum and people were increasing their gifts to the appeal, and it all came together at the right time,” recalled Alex Previtera, director of development and operations for the Catholic Community Foundation. “And so last year we raised close to $5 million. That was amazing, the highest (amount) we’d ever raised.”

As the 2018 appeal was wrapping up and planning for 2019 was underway, scandal rocked the Church. Internationally, nationally and locally the Church had to deal with questions about what its leaders had — and had not — done in dealing with clergy who abused minors. The credibility of bishops as a group was questioned.

“There was definitely concern given everything that’s happening in the Church about how this (abuse crisis) is going to affect the appeal. There was a lot of concern about that,” Previtera said.

Rather than lower expectations about people’s willingness to support it and reduce the appeal’s goal, Previtera increased it to $3.262 million, even though some donors, pastors and business managers questioned whether that goal could be reached. As of Friday, Sept. 13, $4,166,991 has been raised.

“What is important with the appeal, and what I think the expectation that I had with this is that I could, as much as possible, talk about the impact the appeal has and the fact that we are greater than one person or two people,” he said.

While the amount raised didn’t equal last year’s total and the number of donors was down by almost 5,000, Previtera was pleased with certain outcomes.

“We had a lot of new people giving this year. We had a lot of people increasing their gifts over the previous year. The average gift this year per person was close to $300 per gift, which was the highest we’ve ever had,” he said, adding that about 14,183 people contributed to this year’s appeal, including 1,079 who were part of the Bishop’s Circle — those who give $1,000 or more.

Previtera said that what he sensed during the appeal is that people “know that this is not the first time there’s been a crisis in the Church, and they understand that there is a Church that we still need to support.”

He said that while there are people who are upset about what has happened in the Church, there are others who, while not discounting anything that has happened, realize the Church needs to move forward.

“They’re saying, ‘We have faith in our Church, we love our Church, we love our pastor, we love the message of our Church,” Previtera said.

He said the bishop had received a letter from a donor who, along with enclosing “a decent amount of money,” wrote, “This is my check as a vote of confidence in you and in the Church.”

Looking at the data and hearing stories from pastors, Previtera said that donor’s sentiments are not uncommon.

“It appears by the numbers that more people are going in the direction of, ‘We need to work together to help move our Church forward,’” he said. “That’s been my impression throughout.”

With planning underway for the 2020 appeal, Previtera said he is going to build upon the “strong process” that is part of it. But he is also counting on what he has seen since he’s been a part of the appeal since 2010: people working together.

“It’s all of us working together for a common goal. That is inspiring to me every year — to see people want to do that,” he said. “Help out in the best way they can and make those sacrifices to help out their Church. It’s amazing.”

Previtera said he hopes people will continue to respond to the case and see how they are contributing to their parishes and the larger Church.

“And I hope that they continue to be generous because, again, things can always happen in our Church. Good things, bad things, but we are always still called if you believe in the faith,” he said. “If you believe in it, it’s about support. I hope that continues to resonate with people.”


How to have a successful appeal

Ask Alex Previtera about the keys to a successful Annual Diocesan Appeal, and he answers without hesitation.

“The bishop and our pastors,” he said.

“Our bishop getting out there and thanking people and working with them and just hearing what they have to say is really key,” Previtera said. “I just think that that makes all the difference in the success of the appeal.”

Previtera said that unless the pastors are on board with the appeal, it can’t be successful.

“There’s nothing that compares to the pastor asking for people’s support. Every year we say that, but it’s true,” he said. “It really makes a huge difference. And they emphasize the benefit that the larger case for support has to their parish.”

Previtera said that when the pastor can point to something in the case statement that directly relates to his parish, e.g., having an international priest, that makes a difference in how people respond.

Father Alexander Mudda, pastor of St. Mary of the Annunciation, Ladysmith, is from the Archdiocese of Kampala in Uganda.

“I told them that money (in the appeal) is used to help pay for the expenses of bringing international priests to the diocese,” he said. The appeal allocated $120,000 for international priests.

Father Mudda’s parish, with 318 families, raised 285% of its goal. As a non-mission parish — one that is not a home mission grant applicant, it receives 20% of its goal and 50% of all money over its goal to use as it wishes.

“We’ll do church maintenance. We’ll fix our parking lot and the church roof,” he said.

Father Jong Bayta, a priest of the Archdiocese of Caceres, Philippines, is pastor of two mission parishes — St. Peter the Apostle, Lake Gaston, and St. Richard, Emporia. The former reached 169%, How to have a successful appeal of its goal; the latter reached 222% of its goal. Each mission parish keeps 50% of what it raises through the appeal.

“By and large, my parishioners are generous,” he wrote via email. “This I can say because every time a need arises, they step up to the plate and take on their share.”

Father Bayta said it is “never easy” to ask members of his congregations for money, but he has an approach that works.

“I guess what gets them to be so generous is that I tell them that they will benefit from it. A classic example is my presence in the parish as an international priest,” he said. “I would not be there in their parish if not for their financial support.”

Father Bayta, one of 45 international priests serving in the Diocese of Richmond, said in speaking about the appeal “the key word is sincerity.”

“Whenever I speak in front of the congregation to ask for financial support for the Annual Diocesan Appeal, I talk to them with a sincere heart,” he wrote.

The parish portion of money raised through the annual appeal will go into its general fund. This past year they were able to replace the air conditioning unit at St. Peter and some of the money will be used to replace kitchen flooring in the rectory at St. Richard.

Besides the effort put forth by the bishop and the clergy, Previtera said the other key to the appeal’s success — diocesan-wide, 102 parishes reached or surpassed their goals — is that “people are very faithful.”

“People love their Church. People look at what they’re hearing from their pastor and say, ‘This is worth supporting.’ And they do it every year,’” he said of parishioners’ response. “I just think people are amazing.”

— Brian T. Olszewski