Kristen L. Byrd, Special to The Catholic Virginian

Angela D’Allesandro was not an imposing woman. She was gentle and quiet. Not many parishioners knew her name, but most knew her face. She gave them Communion during Mass or handed them a bulletin after it. Behind the scenes, she helped out wherever she was needed. She said she didn’t have much money to give to the weekly collection, so instead she gave her time to her church, St. Michael the Archangel, Glen Allen. 

She passed away in October 2017 after being a parishioner for nearly 20 years. To her parish’s surprise, she gifted them with $31,000 from her retirement fund. With this unexpected money, St. Michael was able to make its first deposit in its endowment fund. And so this unlikely benefactor quickly became the face of the parish’s new Legacy Giving Program. 

“She wasn’t looking for praise; she was just doing it selflessly,” said Mary Sue McClintock, director of evangelization at St. Michael. 

McClintock has been working with Maggie F. Keenan, director of planned giving for the Catholic Community Foundation of the Diocese of Richmond, on spreading the word about the diocese’s growing Legacy Giving Program. The program is designed to educate parishioners about estate planning and make them aware of how their parish could benefit by receiving funds. 

Successful pilot program

Keenan’s goal is to get all 146 parishes in the diocese involved in this program. She started small. In addition to St. Michael, two other parishes served as test subjects — Church of the Epiphany, Chesterfield, and Church of the Visitation, Topping. Each parish created its own case statement explaining why the parish was offering an opportunity to leave a legacy gift and how it would be used. They emphasized how vital stewardship is to keep the parish running. 

The pilot program proved successful, according to Keenan, and soon several other parishes were contacting her for help in setting up legacy programs. The pilot parishes are working on five-year plans that have specific annual goals. The transparency within these plans clearly explains how the parishes intend to invest funds. A parish’s case statement, which is regularly reviewed, can evolve as the parish’s needs evolve. 

For St. Michael, the timing was perfect. 

“We just rolled out our 25th year in 2017. The timing was so right for us as we think about our future and what lies ahead for us,” said McClintock. “We are really thriving now. It’s an exciting time. This is another layer and step in that process as we continue to grow.” 

The parish plans to commit funds to ministry training, youth scholarships, sponsoring ecumenical speakers and workshops, and providing much needed maintenance for the church itself.

“We are planting the seeds today for a fruitful tomorrow,” said McClintock. 

This resonates with her not just as a parishioner, but as a parent. 

“When we talk about our future and what’s next for us, how do we help? I want my kids to be able to have time here. I want them to live out their faith journey here,” she said, adding that she believes her parish will reach 100 percent participation.

‘Expression of Christian faith’

Father Gerry Kaggwa, pastor of Church of the Visitation, Topping, is a native of Uganda and has been a priest for 28 years. He has served in the Diocese of Richmond for the past seven years. He sees the Legacy Giving Program as “not just a fundraiser project, but an expression of our Christian faith.” 

The Legacy Giving Program is also an educational platform. A legacy planning seminar was held in March; more are planned. Parishioners gathered to learn about estate planning and how important it is to have a will. 

“Fifty percent of people die without a will,” Keenan said. “If you don’t make your desires and intentions known, the courts will decide for you.” 

The seminar explained there are options if a parishioner chooses to leave a legacy gift to their parish: 

• a direct bequest of a certain estate percentage; 

•  an annuity that allows the donor to receive money while also contributing to the church; naming the church as a beneficiary of retirement or life insurance plans; 

•  an endowment fund that gives the donor the option to decide which ministry the funds will support; and other methods. 

Each parish has its own Legacy Giving Program committee composed of church staff and parishioners – all on a volunteer basis. Each program is co-created with Keenan, but the individual parish is given ownership and flexibility to create its program based on its particular needs. 

­­One parish might need a new roof while another needs help funding youth ministry. This program allows for diversity.

‘Foundation for future’ 

Bill Geiszler is on the committee at the Church of the Epiphany, Chesterfield. He and his wife were founding members of the parish in 1979 and have served in several ministries since then. His life is deeply rooted in the parish and he sees the Legacy Giving Program as a way to continue to be part of the parish after his death. 

“The Epiphany program is designed to provide funding for the ‘Four Planks’ of the parish’s mission statement: Liturgy, Formation, Community and Outreach,” Geiszler said. 

Money will be deposited in an endowment fund and will be used to help finance various ministries, all outlined in a comprehensive pamphlet the committee published. It also states Epiphany’s goal of establishing a $1 million endowment fund. 

 The Legacy Giving Program could prove pivotal to many parishes as there is always more need for, and ways to, help. 

“Given the increase in the demands in our communities and envisioning a growth in our church — with always limited resources — building a foundation for the future is necessary if we are to continue to serve the needs of those who knock on our parish doors,” Father Kaggwa said.

There is no minimum or maximum amount a person can give. Donors are allowed to donate their funds to specific programs or events, though Keenan advises against this. She explained that sometimes parishioners want to contribute to ministries that don’t have a need for the funding, and that it may be more helpful to let the parish identify areas of need, e.g., debt reduction or other ministries that would benefit from immediate aid.

Still, if parishioners feel passionate about a certain ministry, they are encouraged to donate and identify how they wish their money to be spent. Donors can choose to make themselves known or to remain anonymous.

‘Light of Christ’

Christine McGrath of St. Mark, Virginia Beach, set up an annuity last year with the Catholic Community Foundation. She designated her money be directed toward music ministry. 

“Music is such an integral part of our liturgy. It enables us to praise God in good times and in bad; it consoles us when we are sad and it proclaims our joy when we are happy,” she said. “It gives me pleasure to know that with my donation, the music may go on.”

As donors, McGrath and Geiszler are members of the Lumen Christi Legacy Society, of which all parishioners throughout the diocese who have donated or have committed to donate to the Legacy Giving Program become members. 

Lumen Christi means “Light of Christ” and “is the light in all things and gives life to all things,” said McClintock. 

Lumen Christi members are recognized in different ways at different parishes. Some hold luncheons, others offer a memorial stone or bench. Each parish is given a degree of autonomy in respect to Lumen Christi events and planning, but the logo of the group remains the same across the diocese. This way, it can be recognized no matter to what parish a member belongs. 

Being a member of Lumen Christi is an act of faith, according to Keenan. 

“It is the ultimate gift that anyone can give to their parish as a way of giving thanks for every blessing, every favor, and the grace of God that has been in their life,” she said. “It’s a graced activity because we use our Catholic faith and heritage to really discern about the legacy that we want to leave to our community, our family and our parish.”

With more than a dozen parishes participating in the Legacy Giving Program and even more signing up, Keenan has been traveling across the diocese. 

“It’s a lot of work, but great work,” she said. “I can truly say I love my job.” 

Editor’s note: Parishes and parishioners interested in learning more about legacy gifts in general and the Legacy Giving Program in particular can contact Maggie Keenan at mkeenan@ richmonddiocese.org or 804-622-5221.

14 more parishes commit to program

Since August, eight parishes have introduced the Legacy Giving Program to parishioners. These include: Blessed Sacrament, Norfolk; Holy Family, Virginia Beach; Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Salem; Sacred Heart, Danville; St. Bede, Williamsburg; St. Elizabeth, Richmond; Sts. Peter and Paul, Palmyra; and St. Timothy, Tappahannock.

Six parishes plan to introduce the program: Prince of Peace, Chesapeake; the Portsmouth Cluster parishes — Holy Angels, Resurrection, St. Mary and St. Paul; and Sacred Heart, Norfolk.