Story by Reagan Scott
(SNR) - Each year, members of the Lincoln Diocese are asked to help support the Bishop’s Appeal for Vocations (BAV), a fund that helps to finance the education of diocesan seminarians, a cost that amounts to $1.2 million.
This year, the goal was $800,000, and the fund exceeded that, bringing in more than one million dollars.
For this latest appeal, a number of changes were made to help increase donations to the BAV, using the same strategy as the annual Charity and Stewardship Appeal, which funds numerous apostolates such as Catholic Social Services, the Newman Center, retreat house, pro-life and youth ministries, and more.
Whereas the vocations appeal was formerly a mail-focused campaign, the format was changed this year to give the parishes more control over the process, having parishioners get their pledge cards before or after Mass.
“We thought that if we could change the format and give donation cards to the parishes, we would see an increased donation rate,” the appeal’s new director Father Eric Clark said. “This was the vision of my predecessor Father Michael Zimmer, and I liked this idea.”
The hypothesis turned out to be correct, as the participation rate for the diocese increased from 12 to 24 percent.
The appeal’s online site was also made more donor-friendly, to improve ease of use.
Together, these changes made a significant impact. After the appeal started Oct. 1, the diocese met its goal of $800,000 in just six weeks. The online website, which accounted for $10,000 worth of donations last year saw $70,000 this year, a 600-percent increase.
In total, this year’s appeal has raised almost $400,000 more than it did last year, making it the first time the BAV has ever made more than $1 million. The total collected this year was $1,047,228. As a result of this feat, this is also the first year that the diocese will not have to use its funds to cover the remaining cost of educating diocesan seminarians.
“I am very appreciative of the generosity of the people of the diocese,” Bishop James Conley said. “Anything that we go over we put towards endowments for future years.”
Father Clark also credits the pastors of the parishes in the diocese for this year’s success.
“The pastors of the diocese did a phenomenal job of showing the need for vocations,” he said. “Every person in the diocese is affected by future priests.”
Father Loras Grell, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Aurora and St. Joseph in Giltner, served his first two years as an assistant pastor at the Newman Center.
“I experienced in a firsthand way the sacrifices of finances needed for our seminarians’ formation, and I also experienced the disappointment when the BAV did not seem to measure up to the great need,” he said. “When I found out ... that it was producing less than half, even less than a third, of the seminarians’ total cost of formation, it made the appeal discouraging for me to promote as I should have.”
The increased push this year, however, “fermented me in a greater desire to preach and educate and promote everything I could to make the BAV a success,” he said.
Father Thomas Schultes, pastor of Sacred Heart and St. Stephen parishes in Lawrence and Assumption in Deweese, said many things contributed to the success of the apppeal in parishes.
“The physical presence of a seminarian for the appeal,” he said; “chairpersons at each parish; strong support and reminders by the pastor; repetitive updates in the bulletin of our campaign status; and most importantly the generosity of the people of the diocese who support the universal Church’s continual need for more priests.”
As part of the BAV, each parish had its own fundraising goal based on annual parish income, and 82 parishes either met or surpassed their goal. Of the remaining, most came close.
Father Clark noted that a lot more parishioners took an interest in the fund this year, which helped it along further.
Some parishes that saw impressive results include St. Joseph in Stratton, which had a parishioner participation rate of 80 percent, and St. Mary Catholic Church in Aurora, which raised over 581 percent of its goal.
St. Joseph in Benkelman raised an impressive 386 percent of its goal, and despite the fact that it is in one of the poorest parts of the state, Immaculate Conception Parish in Rulo still raised 207 percent of its goal.
“A small parish like ours has benefited from having a residential pastor and the parishioners value this campaign so small parishes across the diocese have a parish priest,” Father David Oldham, the pastor at Immaculate Conception, said.
Now that this year’s appeal has come to a close, it has become apparent that the BAV’s success was the result of every parish working toward the same goal.
“The beautiful thing is that this shows that parishes all across the diocese were great contributors. There weren’t just a few select parishes that brought in money,” Father Clark said. “I want to thank all of the pastors who put so much work into it and the parishioners of the Lincoln Diocese for their generous support.”
Click to view a report of parishes' total goals, participants and donations: pdf 020918insideBAV (113 KB)