Raising funds for the work of the Church in the midst of a public health emergency and its accompanying financial crisis presents serious challenges by any measure. However, those administering the Annual Catholic Appeal for the Diocese of Trenton know that people will respond as they are able when they fully understand the needs and the benefits of making a financial gift.

Key to that understanding is knowing how the Appeal supports local parish needs through its rebate program.  In fact, an estimated $500,000 each year is awarded back to the parishes from the donations to the Appeal.

The 2020 Annual Catholic Appeal, which was introduced in February in all parishes of the Diocese, drew its theme from the words of St. Augustine: “God gives where he finds empty hands . . . So should we.”

For the first time, the Appeal was organized to allow for donors to select the specific ministry or ministries they wish to support. Individuals may choose between such needs as seminarian formation and support of retired priests; teaching the faith through evangelization and communications, and helping the poor and marginalized through community outreach, to name but a few. 

According to Stephen J. Nicholl, director of the Diocese’s Department of Development, the response to the ACA has been hopeful, despite the many challenges facing all those in the diocesan family resulting from the pandemic. Looking to engage more prospective donors, he explained, efforts must continue to reach the $7 million goal of this year’s campaign.

“Of the people who gave to last year’s Appeal, 3/4 gave to the 2020 Appeal at the beginning of this year (before the pandemic hit),” Nicholl said. However, he continued, “nearly 7,000 of those who gave last year have not yet given this year. We have $5 million in pledges, but donations are down about 10 percent from a more typical year, and that is resulting in a shortfall of about $600,000.”

To address that concern, a letter from Nicholl has just been sent to 29,000 members of the Diocese asking that they re-examine their circumstances and consider a donation to the ACA.

“Acknowledging that many of you may be facing financial strain at this time,” the letter reads, “if your means allow, I ask that you consider a gift to the 2020 Annual Catholic Appeal so we, together, may continue the work of strengthening parish and family life, evangelizing our community and our world, and reaching out to those in need with love and compassion.”

In St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, the rebate from the 2019 Appeal was utilized for projects both inside and outside its campus: LED lighting was installed in the parking lot; the sound system was upgraded both in the church and parish hall, and supplies necessary to livestream Masses over Facebook and on YouTube were purchased. Parish business manager Eileen Kane noted the ACA rebate “lets the parishioners know their contributions do matter, and we put them to good use at the parish.”

According to parish ACA coordinator George Loder of St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach, the pastor, Conventual Franciscan Father Pedro de Oliveira, used the rebate to solve a longstanding problem.

“The money we received was used by Father Pedro to buy one new window as part of the stained glass improvement project,” Loder said. “It was the last window needed to complete the project that used monies from the ‘Faith to Move Mountains’ capital campaign. All windows in our church have been replaced.”

“We have used the ACA money for some of the COVID-19 expenses,” said Msgr. Edward Arnister, pastor of St. Rose Parish, Belmar, “primarily … right at the beginning of the pandemic, to put in the livestream capability in our church. This was quite costly, over $25,000, but very well appreciated by the parishioners and others! We livestream daily Mass and weekend Mass. … We are so grateful that parishioners have greatly supported the ACA!”

In his follow-up October letter, Nicholl reminds prospective donors that their work is crucial to the spiritual life of the Diocese and its churches.

“Although we have been through a lot,” the letter states, “we are all truly blessed. We may have more hardship to endure, but we are still the Church and our mission never stops! Please continue to support your parish and the Diocese as we all work together to serve the spiritual and material needs in our communities.”