Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - “If you’ve encountered Christ,” said Bishop James Conley, “in the sacraments and in the Church, you know the Joy of the Gospel. And when you know the Joy of the Gospel, you support the Church generously. I’ve learned that from the witness of our diocese.”
Bishop Conley was referring to a recently launched capital campaign—the Joy of the Gospel campaign—designed to support areas of need across the Diocese of Lincoln.
Through the next two years, every Catholic in the diocese will invited to give sacrificially to support the needs of the Church through to the Joy of the Gospel campaign.
“The Joy of the Gospel Campaign is an effort to support the important ministries of our diocese—the education of our children, the formation and retirement of our priests, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the work and ministry of every parish,” said Bishop Conley.
The campaign’s name is a reference to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or “The Joy of the Gospel.” In that document, the Holy Father wrote “With Christ, joy is constantly born anew… I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”
Over the past year, Bishop Conley and a team of priests and lay advisors from across the Diocese of Lincoln have identified five areas of immediate and long-term financial needs in the diocese—each of which brings the joy of the Gospel to the world.
“From the time he arrived in Lincon, Bishop Conley has worked with our priests to find solutions to answer those financial needs,” said JD Flynn, special assistant to Bishop Conley and associate coordinator of the campaign. “The Joy of the Gospel campaign is the best way to secure the long-term future of these missions and apostolates.”
Over the past two years, the Diocese of Lincoln has undergone a comprehensive review of sustainable funding for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Lincoln. The Joy of the Gospel campaign will raise funds to support new initiatives and programs in schools, and as they develop models of compensation and development which support their growth.
“At the heart of the Diocese of Lincoln,” said Flynn, “is the mission of Catholic education. Bishop Conley is committed to excellent, faithful, and affordable Catholic education. The Joy of the Gospel campaign supports the incredible legacy, and the future, of affordable Catholic education in the Diocese of Lincoln.”
Flynn noted that even those who don’t have local parish schools benefit from Catholic education, because they help build a Catholic culture in an increasingly secular society.
“Our Catholic schools form holy priests, holy religious, and holy men and women living in families and in single life,” he said. “If we don’t make a commitment to form men and women with a commitment to Christ at the center of their lives, we don’t know what the future will hold,” Flynn stated.
St. Gregory the Great Seminary
The diocesan college-level seminary has been operating at capacity for some years now. Currently, there are 50 seminarians in residence. Some are studying for the Diocese of Lincoln, while others come from nearby dioceses.
A recent evaluation found that the seminary could add 20 men to its student body without increasing either faculty or administrative staff. Through funds raised via the Joy of the Gospel campaign, a new dorm wing could be added to house the additional seminarians.
The advantages to this would be two-fold, according to Flynn.
“It’s beneficial to our diocese because it helps us form seminarians at a reasonable cost, and it also helps the Universal Church as we help form men from other dioceses for the priesthood. Our seminary runs in a cost-effective and faithful way. Growing our facility, and saving money to pay tuition costs, allows the Diocese to continue to educate our seminarians affordably. Increased enrollment lowers per-student costs, and allows St. Gregory’s to continue its sacred mission.”
Caring for retired priests has long been a mission of the diocese. A dedicated fund pays for their housing, health care and other needs.
However, people are living longer and healthcare costs are rising. Actuaries have determined that the diocese can expect a shortfall of $9 million in the next decade or so. That’s why the Joy of the Gospel Campaign will include adding to the retired priests fund.
“We want to solve the problem before there is a problem,” said Father Randall Langhorst, pastor of St. Leo Parish in Palmyra and St. Martin Parish in Douglas and vicar for clergy.
“People have depended on priests for the sacraments, for counseling, and for spiritual guidance their whole lives long,” Father Langhorst said. “It’s only right that our priests shouldn’t have to worry about anything when they retire.”
To fulfill Saint Pope John Paul II’s call to the New Evangelization, Bishop Conley has developed a plan to form leaders throughout the diocese who can share the Good News with fallen-away Catholics and non-Catholics in every community.
Flynn said the far-reaching plan involves Hispanic ministry, a prison ministry to help with the formation of incarcerated Catholics, and efforts to bring divorced and remarried Catholics back into full communion with the Church.
The bishop’s vision for New Evangelization also includes a Chair of Catholic Studies to serve university students throughout the diocese.
This will be a college-level instructor who teaches courses in literature, history, philosophy and theology. Students will be able to receive credits they can apply to their degrees at the University of Nebraska and other schools.
Each parish will be given a goal to meet for the Joy of the Gospel campaign. Twenty percent of all funds raised within a parish will be returned for that parish to use for whatever needs arise.
“Most of us encounter Christ most concretely in the local parish,” Flynn noted. “It’s the best way to form people in the faith.”
He said the monies could be applied to anything from building improvements to continuing education to expanding a core ministry.
Plus, he said, “When parishes raise more than their goal, they will receive back 50 cents for every additional dollar raised.”
The Joy of the Gospel Campaign is being rolled out in phases.
Currently, nine parishes are in the pilot phase, and Bishop Conley is personally meeting with other key contributors. To date $12 million of the anticipated $53 million campaign goal has been raised.
“We are amazed,” said Bishop Conley, “by the generosity of givers in our diocese. And we’re amazed by the support of our priests. We know that our diocese will rise to the challenge of this campaign, and support the good work of the Diocese of Lincoln.”
Other parishes will launch the campaign locally in two more phases through 2015.
“Every single Catholic in the diocese will be asked to give generously and sacrificially,” Flynn assured.
Msgr. Liam Barr, campaign director and pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Lincoln said, “I am very grateful for the priests of our diocese who have supported the campaign whole-heartedly. Under their leadership I know that we can be successful to secure the ministry of our diocese well into the future.”
Bishop Conley also expressed his thanks.
“I am deeply grateful for the generosity of so many Catholics who have already committed to our campaign,” he said. “But our diocese depends on the sacrificial generosity of every family in the diocese of Lincoln.”
He continued, “All of us are called to become disciples of Jesus Christ and to generously offer our resources to the needs of the Church and to building the Kingdom of God in our diocese.”