Story by Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor
As the Diocese and its parishes enter the homestretch of the multi-year endowment campaign, Faith To Move Mountains, there is cause for both profound gratitude and great hope for the future of the Church of Trenton.
The numbers attached to the campaign reflect a true success story that has played out in the Diocese’s 107 parishes across Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties. With pledges nearly reaching $70 million from 22,709 donors as of Sept. 5, Faith To Move Mountains has achieved nearly 94 percent of its $75 million goal. Of the almost $70 million, more than $31 million has been collected to date. With 38 parishes still in the campaign process and other plans for alternative giving, there are good signs that the campaign will not only reach, but surpass its goal.
“While the goal of $75 million seemed a stretch of what was possible in the beginning, achieving $70 million at this point shows the willingness of our good people to invest in their own future,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., said in acknowledging the generous response of parishioners toward the campaign.
“In addition to their generosity and commitment, the efforts of many pastors and the diocesan Department of Development staff bear witness to the importance of this initiative, the first of its kind in the Diocese of Trenton since 1992. We will continue with our efforts through December, 2017” said Bishop O’Connell.
In addition to helping the Diocese meet its long-term needs to better serve the faithful, Mariann Gilbride, the Department of Development’s associate director, offered how Faith To Move Mountains benefits the parishes too.
Gilbride explained that a parish will receive 30 percent of every dollar collected up to its campaign amount. Should a parish collect over its goal amount, 70 percent of the overage will be returned for local needs and priorities. She noted that each parish was asked to submit a case statement indicating how the return money would be used. The majority of the parishes are looking to reduce debts, make improvements to buildings and grounds, develop new ministries and update technology. Gilbride said that to date, $8.5 million has been returned to parishes. The most recent rebate alone was more than $2.4 million.
But the current amount raised is not the end of the good news. The Department of Development has reported many other benefits of the campaign, including growth in the number of parishioners who are supporting the Diocese for the first time.
“We continue to be very grateful to the existing donors who continue to support us year after year through their generous donations and we are also very encouraged by the 5,081 first time donors to the Diocese,” said Steve Nicholl, department director, adding that the first time donors pledged $9.330 million
The Parish Experience
Speak with pastors in the Diocese and members of their Faith To Move Mountains team and the consensus seems to be that many of the concerns and questions that surfaced at the campaign’s beginning three years ago have given way to a shared sense of purpose and ownership. Many pastors say they have come to see the campaign as being much more than an effort to raise a large sum of money.
Reflecting on his experience, Father Mark Crane, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, said he was humbled by the generosity of his parishioners, including the 30 who volunteered to serve on the campaign team and spent time making home visits, phone calls and dealing with the various logistics to ensure their parish’s campaign would run smoothly.
St. Thomas More Parish combined its Faith To Move Mountains and Annual Catholic Appeal goals, thereby having a total goal of $1.145 million. In all, the parish exceeded its goal by 17 percent in pledges and received about half the pledged amount in cash. The $300,000 return, said Father Crane, was directed toward a new roof for the church as well as for the development of new ministries including support groups for persons with addictions and those facing crisis situations.
“It’s not easy to sit in someone’s living room and ask for money,” Father Crane said, “and probably not many people would want to volunteer to do that. But the volunteers who came forward …they saw the importance of the campaign and made the connection between the parish and the wider Church, which is the Diocese.”
Similarly, in Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, a parish with 2,641 households and a campaign goal set at $1.49 million, Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, pastor, said that while the campaign was promoted in a variety of ways as recommended by the Development Office, he found that the “most effective means” for promotion were the one-on-one visits between the parishioners and the campaign committee members.
“They believed in the needs of the goals,” he said of the committee members. “This, along with their love of the parish, gave them the motivation to speak freely and openly with our parishioners and to share their own sense of commitment and stewardship.”
As a pastor who also made home visits, Msgr. Gervasio, who is also diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia, said that beyond explaining campaign goals and addressing questions and concerns, he found the visits helped him get better acquainted with his parishioners. In turn, he added, “I should like to think they came to know me better.”
“The visits also provided a venue for parishioners to voice their opinions, concerns and offer suggestions on aspects of our parish life that were unrelated to the campaign,” he said. “I hasten to add one more lesson – people will respond when asked and when they understand and appreciate a project’s goal.”
Msgr. Gervasio said that to date, the parish raised more than $900,000 toward its goal. The return money will be used to replace the windows in Our Lady of Sorrows School, install a new drainage system in the parking lot on the campus of St. Anthony Church, enhance the audio systems in the parish’s two worship sites and build the school’s tuition assistance fund.
As pastor of Christ the King Parish, a multicultural community of 2,300 families in Long Branch, Father Javier Diaz was initially concerned how his parishioners would respond to the campaign, especially since the community continues to work through the transition of the mergers of Holy Trinity, Our Lady Star of the Sea and St. John the Baptist Parishes into what is now Christ the King Parish.
However, as a way for him to get to better know his parishioners and help familiarize them with Faith To Move Mountains, Father Diaz made it a priority to conduct a significant number of home visits, which afforded him an opportunity to listen to his parishioners’ hopes, sorrows, dreams and their feelings about their parish.
He also gained greater insight into their home lives, especially those who are first generation immigrants to the United States, he said, noting that Christ the King is composed of different cultures such as Portuguese, Brazil and Latin America. “They want to support the future of the Diocese of Trenton,” Father Diaz said. “It was beautiful, really great, to meet one-on-one with families.”
Among the plans for the returned funds that Father Diaz noted include renovations to both Holy Trinity and Our Lady Star of the Sea Churches and expanded space where the religious education classes are held in the former Holy Trinity School. “We have 350 students and space is tight,” he said. Other campaign funds will be used to enhance the adult education and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults offerings.
In St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, Father Patrick McDonnell, pastor, said he was confident in being able to rely on the generosity of his parishioners after they had rallied to help raise funds for a major renovation project to the church building, which included an addition to the gathering space area. Father McDonnell recalled how enthusiastic parishioners became when they started seeing the improvements.
So when he announced the Faith To Move Mountains campaign, he drew on his experience from the parish renovation project and set out to form a team of volunteers to handle tasks such as making house visits and created other strategies to keep his people informed through regular bulletin and pulpit announcements.
The parish raised $732,200, which is five percent over the designated $695,000 goal.
Father McDonnell said that the money returned was dedicated toward much-needed refurbishments to the parking lot.
“It looks so much nicer and it’s so much safer,” he said. “When people pass by St. Anthony’s, they see a campus that grabs the eye.”
In an effort to garner future participation in the campaign, the Development Department has also been encouraging planned giving to allow donors who didn’t wish to make a “traditional offering” give through a vehicle such as a bequest in their will. To date, Development staff has given presentations in St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square; Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, and Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro.
“We’re planting the seeds on the planned giving option,” Gilbride said, noting that an additional incentive for people to consider leaving a donation to the Church is the fact that it is tax deductible, and can help to offset estate taxes.
As for Faith To Move Mountains to date, Bishop O’Connell said the results of the campaign speak for themselves.
“The campaign continues to be a wonderful success because our faithful believed in its purposes and the causes presented. They have been marvelous,” the Bishop said, then noted how grateful he is to the majority of the pastors who “were fantastic in their outreach and encouragement of Faith To Move Mountains.
“As we have said all along, the campaign is everyone’s investment in the future of the Diocese providing a stronger and more solid foundation, for it is our hope that the Diocesan ministries and mission to evangelize will continue well into the future,” said Bishop O’Connell. “The campaign is a wonderful blessing!”