Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

The 2018 Annual Diocesan Appeal may well be remembered for positive superlatives, e.g., highest and most.

Its goal of $3,117,096 was its highest ever; the $4,574,338.52 raised, as of Friday May 25, is the most ever. The 18,288 donors are the most contributors to the appeal.

According to Alex Previtera, director of development for the Catholic Community Foundation, there is a major reason for this year’s success.

“I attribute most of it, if not all of it, to Bishop Barry Knestout,” he said. “Going to some of those early receptions where he interacted with people, he was very well received. That’s reflected in the giving.”

Previtera termed 120 of the diocese’s 145 parishes having reached or surpassed their individual targets as “pretty astounding,” noting that “a lot more are pretty close.” He added that by the time the appeal wraps up within the next few months, the number of donors could reach 20,000, and the amount contributed could be $5 million.

“People are increasing what they’re giving over the previous year, which is a big part of why we’ve had success,” he said.  “For example, we’ve asked those who gave $100 last year if they could do $150 this year. They have been very responsive.”

Another major factor in the appeal’s success, according to Previtera, is the clergy.

“This is a pastor-driven appeal in many ways because when a guy gets up there and talks about the appeal to his parishioners and asks, there’s nothing that compares to Father saying, ‘I need your help. Please join me in supporting the appeal,’” he said. “It’s really the role of clergy driving the appeal that leads to its success.”

Matter of trust, love

Among the clergy serving on the Catholic Community Foundation’s pastors’ advisory committee is Msgr. Walter Barrett Jr., pastor of St. Joseph, Hampton, and St. Mary Star of the Sea, Fort Monroe. He said one reason people are supporting the appeal is because the clergy have earned their trust.

“We have earned their trust on the parish level, in the person of their clergy, and on the diocesan level because they can see where their money is going,” he said.

Msgr. Barrett said parishioners’ generosity is also a matter of love.

“It is a reflection of their love — their love for God, love for their local Church, and their love for the wider Church,” he said. “The honesty, the trust we have developed over the years, and the love of our parishioners is another reason why the Church calls them the ‘lay faithful’ because God knows they have been very faithful in their response.”

Msgr. Barrett also credits success of the appeal to the late Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, “who told it like it was,” according to the priest, and to Bishop Knestout.

“People are excited about this energetic, young bishop we have who has opened the hearts of a whole lot of priests and people just by being who he is,” the priest said.

A blessing

One of the incentives for parishioners to contribute to the appeal, according to Msgr. Barrett, is the “parish sharing formula” in which the approximately 100 non-mission parishes keep 20 percent of their target, and 50 percent of the money raised over the target. Mission parishes receive 50 percent of everything they raise. The target for St. Joseph is $29,500; for St. Mary Star of the Sea it is $6,920.

“They not only help the larger, wider Church, but they also see the money coming back to the local Church,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

According to Previtera, since 2010, the appeal has returned more than $10 million to parishes for them to use as they wish.

The local share of the appeal has allowed St. Mary Parish to paint and do repairs that, if left undone, would eventually need to be done, and which would be more costly.

“This early maintenance prevents us from having those bills down the road,” Msgr. Barrett said.

At St. Joseph, where maintenance of seven buildings costs the parish $8,000 per month, Msgr. Barrett is looking at downsizing the infrastructure. Nonetheless, there is still a need for upkeep. And that’s where the parish portion of the appeal has been applied.

“It has been such a blessing because it has prevented me from having to approach the people and say, ‘Could you give more money?’ because they’re giving more money through the appeal,” he said. “It’s been a blessing to all pastors who need additional revenue to take care of and maintain their parishes.”

‘Good case for the appeal’

St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Glen Allen, has a target of $79,850 — the fifth highest in the diocese. Last year it raised 130 percent of its target. Father Dan Brady, the pastor and a member of the pastors’ advisory committee, said his parishioners “have always been generous” in supporting the appeal.

“When you see the case, it’s good stuff. Can you argue with it? All the different goals we’ve set; it’s a good case,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing people will go, ‘Oh, OK.’ You make the point that it’s more than what each of us can do alone.” (The case can be found at http://richmondcatholicfoundation.org/giving/annual-appeal /case-for-support/).

When he presents the appeal, Father Brady reminds parishioners how much God loves them.

“‘Let’s respond in kind.’ That’s a pretty basic message, and when you’ve got good things you’re collecting for, no one could argue with the case,” he said. “How generous could they be? That’s really up to them.”

One of the reasons the pastors’ advisory committee meets, according to Father Brady, is to develop a strong case for the appeal.

“We try and make sure that what’s put forward in the case is something that would appeal to our people in the pews because there is, in the end, a certain limited amount we can expect  people to give,” he said. “We’ve got to realize we are tapping people who otherwise might be giving it to the parish.”

Give, and receive much more

Father Brady said the appeal is not about “trying to get people’s money,” but rather he wants people to see the good works that are being done as a result of it and then ask, “Can you help us do them?”

He continued, “I want people to understand that it’s not me trying to get something from you; it’s me trying to give you something, and the thing I’m trying to give is that freedom Christ offers us of not being tied down by things of this world; that’s really what I want to do for people. I want to help them become more free. It happens when we give things away.”

Father Brady said he wants to help people understand that in giving they receive so much more.

“In a way, it’s very self-centered: We need to give for ourselves,” he said.

Referring to Mark 10:17-22, in which Jesus tells the rich man to sell everything and give to the poor, Father Brady said Jesus wanted the man to be free of his possessions.

“He looks at the man with love, then he tells him to sell everything because he loves the man, he wants him to give for his own sake because Jesus wants him to know he loves him so much and this is holding you back and I love you. Get rid of this burden you carry,” the priest said.

Reiterating his gratitude for Bishop Knestout’s leadership in the appeal, the work of the pastors’ advisory committee in developing the case, and the parish priests presenting it, Previtera noted the generosity of parishioners.

“I like the fact they’ve accepted the challenge to look beyond their parish walls, to say, ‘What are the larger needs we face as a Church?’” he said. “It is a communal effort to work together, to accomplish the larger goals of our Church, but to also benefit our parishes at the same time. I feel we are always blessed to have parishioners who give sacrificially every year to help this effort.”