By Mary Morrell | Contributing Editor

When pastors are asked what makes the Annual Catholic Appeal successful, they are quick to highlight the generosity of their parishioners, embracing the vision, adherence to a plan of action, and the importance of prayer.

Appeal planners also point to the critical role of pastors, who teach and witness to the important mission of the Annual Catholic Appeal, covering such initiatives as helping the poor, the elderly, families and retired religious, as well as ministries of evangelization, communication and vocations.

It’s a combination that brought the 2018 Annual Catholic Appeal, “What Does Love Look Like?” to a successful close in December. The appeal raised $6.2 million of a $7 million goal, an increase of $600,000 over the previous year’s appeal.

The increase is significant, said Steve Nicholl, diocesan director of the Department of Development, considering some parishioners are still fulfilling their pledges to the Faith to Move Mountains Endowment Campaign.  That multi-year initiative also ended its solicitation phase successfully in mid-2017 and will be in the redemption phase until 2022.

A notable positive for the 2018 Annual Catholic Appeal, said Nicholl, is the increase in the number of parishes that have gone over their goal. In 2018, 42 parishes surpassed their goal, as compared to 24 parishes in 2017.

In keeping with the Appeal’s long-standing protocol, parishes that exceed goal not only receive 15 percent of all collected donations from their parish, but another 50 percent of the amount raised over goal. Because of the high number of parishes exceeding goal, a total of $650,000 is being paid out in parish rebates for the 2018 Appeal.

Reflecting on the outcome of the 2018 appeal, Father John Butler, pastor, St. Michael Parish, Long Branch, stressed that the value of the appeal rests not only in the funds donated to support ministries or provide parish rebates, but “in the opportunity to annually recall for parishioners the duties and responsibilities of stewardship that are certainly necessary to respond to ‘here at home in the parish,’ but also to respond at the broader Church community level, too. 

“The appeal keeps in focus the principle that the parish is part of a Diocese and that the parishes and the Diocese together are part of the Church as an integrated whole, and as a community and communion of inter-related parts.”

The 2018 campaign was bolstered by a consistent presence across all diocesan media – including print, web and social –providing donors of all ages easy and convenient ways to access information and make their gift to the appeal. Of particular note was the Appeal video, “Stories of Love,” which was introduced to parishioners by their pastors during the appeal kick-off weekend.  The video not only highlighted the many ministries and initiatives funded by the appeal, but included testimony by clergy, religious and couples whose vocations have been served through the Appeal’s supported ministries.

“One of the biggest benefits of the Appeal video is allowing my parishioners to see what is going on throughout the Diocese.  More than once … a parishioner has asked me about something they saw in the video that is going on at another parish, and then ask if we could do it here,” said Father John Garrett, pastor, Resurrection Parish, Delran.

“To a certain extent,” he advised, “the pastor has to be something of a cheerleader for the Diocese in the parish. There is a natural tendency for people just to focus on their local parish. … For many people in the pews, the Diocese is some far away entity, so the pastor has to help them see that the Diocese is just as much a part of ‘us’ as the person in the pew in front of them.”

Looking toward the future, and plans for the parish rebate monies, Father Butler explained, “The commitment that we made for the 2018 rebate is in the ‘brick and mortar’ category. The restrooms in the church basement are in need of paint and a general freshening-up, and perhaps the start of a more substantial phased-in upgrade; an engineer’s feasibility study of installing an automated outdoor chair lift to enable seniors and the handicapped to more easily access the restrooms and the Lower Church in our church basement, and after those two items there are, of course, many others on our parish wish list and to-do list.”

For Resurrection Parish, the needs are different, said Father Garrett. “Like so many parishes, we have a hard time just paying our ordinary bills, and the Annual Catholic Appeal rebate just goes into our general operating funds.”  Expressing gratitude that the parish doesn’t have the deepest of debts, he added, “But we do have a little debt to the Diocese.”

Father Garrett continued, “I am thankful for how patient the Diocese is in collecting what we owe in back assessments, but I do not want to take advantage of the Diocese’s patience.  So our rebate will probably go to paying off the assessment.”

As parishes get ready to kick-off the 2019 Annual Catholic Appeal on the weekend of Feb. 23-24, Father Butler offered some thoughts on preparing, also, to be successful in the endeavor.

“It’s vital that the pastor make the ends and the purposes of the appeal very real, relevant and tangible to the parishioners, even though some or most of the effects of the appeal may not be readily visible within the parish territory itself, and repeatedly emphasize the message that what helps the Diocese helps the parish, helps the Church and helps the individual; that we’re all connected and that we all have a stake in the Annual Catholic Appeal,” he shared.

“My hope for the 2019 Appeal is to keep our streak going,” said Father Garrett.  “We have made our goal every year that I have been here, and the streak of making goal goes back even further than that. I am grateful that the previous pastors set a good foundation in parishioners’ minds that the Annual Catholic Appeal is very important.” 

Said Nicholl, “We are very thankful to all of our parishes that actively participated, and a special congratulations to those who reached their goal. We pray that people continue to fulfill their pledge commitment to Faith to Move Mountains while supporting the Annual Catholic Appeal campaign.”