Far flung outreach: Annual Diocesan Appeal lends help to rural parishes and more
God’s call to all Catholics to employ their talents and generosity to the best of their abilities to help those in need is a crucial part of discipleship, of course.
As King Solomon said in Proverbs, “Whoever is kind to the poor is lending to God who will repay him the kindness done” (19:17).
Grants distributed through the Advancement Foundation of the Diocese of Fort Worth, however, also provide concrete evidence of the Annual Appeal’s numerous benefits and, for many parishes, result in huge positive differences, the effects of which often resound far beyond the Appeal term of any given year.
Both the needs and pluses of the Annual Appeal are evident, but so too, especially this year, are the challenges.
“Absolutely,” Advancement Foundation Chief Development Officer Renée Underwood said. “We had record support, the best Appeal we’d had in our 37-year history for the 2020 Appeal, which ended June 30, 2020.”
Underwood continued, “But for last year’s Appeal, the one that ended June 2021, we saw that support drop off significantly.”
The ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic complicated everything.
“Many people lost jobs, faced health issues,” Underwood said. “One of the biggest things is that our parishes weren’t having in-person Masses for much of last year, and we certainly weren’t distributing pieces of paper in person and couldn’t do the in-pew commitment brochure last September.”
The pandemic negatively compounded the situation in another big way.
“Because even though support and giving to the Appeal decreased last year, the needs grew greater than ever especially, in many cases, because of the pandemic.”
As the pandemic appears to be winding down, parishioners are back in church and a return to normalcy is underway. In-pew brochures will be distributed this September, Underwood said.
But the needs are daunting as this year’s Appeal officially kicks off during the September 18-19 weekend with a $3.5-million goal.
“Mailers will be in mailboxes around Labor Day and parishioners will be approached in their parishes to commit to the Appeal if they haven’t already,” Underwood said. “Each parish has a goal toward reaching that $3.5 million. So, when a person makes a recurring monthly gift to the Appeal or one-time donation, they are supporting the overall Appeal and helping their parish reach its goal.”
Appeal donations help support many diocesan ministries including formation and education of seminarians and men discerning for the permanent diaconate as well as care for retired and infirm priests. Also benefitting are Catholic Charities Fort Worth, prison ministry, Marriage and Family Life ministries, schools in the diocese, and much more.
Far flung outreach
Appeal funds also benefit the many rural parishes dotting the diocese’s 28 counties.
“The lion’s share of money from the Appeal supports rural and struggling parishes,” Underwood said. “Smaller parishes needing support to pay their priest’s salary, utilities, maybe have a youth director, or just meet the basic needs that larger parish communities may take for granted.
“It’s as important for our rural parishes to spread the Gospel where many otherwise can’t get to Mass in the larger cities. In a lot of parishes that we give grants to, the priest may serve several parish communities, almost like circuit riders. But them being shepherds to those communities is very vital to our faith and diocese.”
Father John Perikomalayil Antony, HGN, was assigned to Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Hillsboro on July 1. Before that, he served at St. Joseph Parish in Rhineland. Both parishes received Appeal grants from the 2020 campaign.
Our Lady of Mercy received $26,500 to fund a support priest, operational expenses, and payroll. St. Joseph received $30,600 to help with salaries for a secretary/bookkeeper, youth minister, and director of religious education.
Both grants made a difference.
“It helps us stay afloat financially with payroll and monthly expenses,” Fr. Antony said. “Living in our socioeconomic areas, meeting those costs would be hard for both parishes without the Annual Appeal. We need the supplement and support of the diocese to operate.”
The fruits of the grants have not gone unnoticed to parishioners of both churches, Fr. Antony added.
“The grants help support our ministries and basic costs, which in turn helps us spread the word and build community,” Fr. Antony said. “Once the people heard about the grants, they became very excited, and I think that helps build their interest in supporting the Appeal to help others.
“I will be pushing for more active participation in the Appeal this year in hopes that now that we have received grants, people will be more enthusiastic to participate.”
The grants help in other ways as well.
“They free us up to expand our outreach and ministries and increase our focus beyond the celebration of the sacraments,” Fr. Antony said. “It helps us to offer more to our youth and to meet the growing demands of our parish community. Another aspect is that it encourages parishioners to learn more about and see their duties of stewardship in action.”
Father Bose Jujuvarapu, HGN, serves at Sacred Heart Church in Seymour and St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Megargel. Both received $35,000 in combined grants to assist with staff salaries, pastoral administration, and faith formation projects. The Megargel parish saw 100 percent participation by parishioners during last year’s Appeal.
“I would say strong love for the Lord,” Fr. Jujuvarapu answered when asked how that was accomplished. “I think it’s witness to how they love and dedicate their lives to God in their desire to live out the Gospel, in serving the Church and especially the needs of our diocese.
“That’s what I preach about on the Annual Appeal — that it’s for the love of God and the Church and helping to meet the needs of the Church and the people.”
Deacon Jim Novak, who has served both parishes for 14 years, said both have met their Appeal goals for as long as he can remember.
Sacred Heart has about 160 registered families while St. Mary with 13 is probably the smallest parish in the diocese.
Needless to say, financial needs often pose a challenge.
“But, while it’s been tough with COVID-19, we also try to do as much as any large parish,” Dcn. Novak said.
Such includes a heavy focus on youth ministry and other outreach programs.
“For us it’s a case of supporting our diocese,” Dcn. Novak said of the robust participation in the Appeal by members of both parishes. “Even though we are smaller parishes, sort of the little brothers to the bigger brothers, we find thanksgiving through trying to do our share to contribute to that pool of donations to help us and the diocese stay as vibrant as possible.”
Fr. Jujuvarapu and Dcn. Novak feel very blessed to have received the grants.
Stephenville’s St. Brendan Parish, which operates as part of a four-parish cluster, received funding for a second full-time priest, part-time business manager, part-time administrative assistant, utilities, and a part-time campus minister.
The parish received more — $44,300 more — than requested in the grant because the Advancement Foundation deemed it important to increase campus ministry at nearby Tarleton State University. Thanks to the grant, a staff member, rather than a volunteer, is leading Tarleton’s Catholic Campus Ministry for the first time in more than a decade.
St. Brendan, which dates from 1960, was in large part started to serve area students, Father Matthew Sanka, SAC, said.
“The presence of students here is always a plus,” the pastor said. “But it’s also that vulnerable time for many as to retaining the faith. So, for us to have a campus minister fully dedicated is very appreciated. We also serve several smaller and spread-out communities and, without the generosity of the diocese and Advancement Foundation, much of what we’re able to do just wouldn’t happen.”
St. Patrick Cathedral parishioner Stephanie Montero said she contributes to the Appeal mainly because of its support of Catholic Charities Fort Worth. Montero said she was unaware of the Appeal’s other benefactors including rural parishes.
“Well, it does now,” Montero joked when asked if that information increases her desire to support the Appeal. “I’ve never associated the Annual Appeal with that, but I can see where it’s urgently important. Especially given the difficult couple of years we’ve all been through where so many more people are in need of more help.”
Montero said the importance of good stewardship has been instilled in her from a young age when asked why she supports the Appeal in general.
“Just that need to reach out, help others, and support the Church,” Montero said. “So yes, that’s definitely something I feel we all need to try harder to do.”
Underwood urged parishioners to consider donating on a monthly basis if possible and at any amount they can afford, and, whether they make a commitment or not, to submit prayer intentions. The Discalced Carmelite Nuns cloistered in the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington will pray for those intentions throughout the year.
Let us give thanks
The theme of this year’s Appeal is “Let us give thanks” coupled with the spirit of looking back in gratitude for all we’ve received from the Church and its ministries.
“I think it’s safe to say COVID-19 impacted all of us in some way,” Underwood said. “But through it all and forever, God is faithful, good, and loving and we really need to focus on the many ways we’re blessed and thankful, and there are so many.
“So in selecting this year’s theme, it’s a spirit of joyous, wonderful thanksgiving, which is what lives of stewardship are.
“It’s also fair to say that, because of everything everyone went through last year, we need to look out for and help one another now more than ever, especially those in need — and to support the Appeal in gratitude for God’s blessings and all the incredible work He’s doing in the Diocese of Fort Worth.”