By Dominic Winter
(SNR) - The inaugural “Bishop’s Appeal for Vocations,” launched in September 2014 received an incredible response from across the Diocese of Lincoln.
The appeal raised money to fund the education of the diocese’s 48 seminarians. Among those seminarians are eight men who are scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood next May.
Preparing for the appeal last fall, JD Flynn, special assistant to the bishop, pointed out that the diocese spends between $1.2 and $1.4 million on the formation of seminarians each year. Most of that money had been drawn from the reserved funds of the diocese.
The million-dollar-plus total is based on the financial costs of tuition, room and board, books, and travel for each seminarian, which averaged $36,000 per year.
“Obviously, we have a unique challenge in the diocese because we are blessed with so many priestly vocations,” Flynn said.
At the start of the appeal, Bishop Conley set the goal for $750,000, more than $350,000 over last year’s efforts. By Feb. 1, however, the appeal had collected more than $850,000 in pledges.
Diocesan vocations director Father Robert Matya, Flynn and Joshua Shasserre, former director of the Catholic Foundation, managed the appeal. In discussion, the bishop’s senior staff devised a new method of getting the appeal’s message out to the diocese.
The program had three prongs: letters sent directly to every address receiving a seminarian poster, announcements at every parish to support the appeal, and promotion by the Bishop’s Lay Committee for Vocations. Except for the Lay Committee’s efforts, these strategies were almost completely new for the appeal.
“There had been no real direct appeal with this much emphasis,” Shasserre said. “This is a tremendous response and it’s really heartening to see that response.”
Each parish was asked to meet a particular goal. The pastor was to give a homily featuring his own vocation story one week, while the seminarians arrived the next week to speak about vocations from their own perspective.
Each pledge for the Appeal was followed up with a handwritten thank-you from a seminarian. Flynn lauded the pastors of all the parishes of the diocese for their devotion in promoting both vocations and the corresponding financial support, especially in the past few months.
“It’s a tribute to our pastors for supporting vocations,” he said. “Once people understood what the needs are, they were happy to support. This is an incredible response.”
Flynn said he believed another significant part of the Appeal’s success came from the bishop’s suggestion of just $8 a month from each family: one dollar for each man to be ordained a priest in 2015. Multiplied by the more than 90,000 families across the diocese, that equals $864,000 in the year: almost exactly what the appeal collected by Feb. 1; as if every single family in the diocese responded as requested to support seminarians.