Bishop Conley ‘overjoyed’ by outpouring of faith, generosity
By S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - Capital campaigns can be measured in numbers. The Joy of the Gospel campaign can be measured in years: more than three years ago, Msgr. Liam Barr began its preliminary planning.
The Joy of the Gospel campaign can be measured in volunteers: more than 500 Catholics across the Diocese of Lincoln helped the campaign in their parishes. For Bishop James Conley, the campaign can be measured in meals: the bishop hosted more than 50 dinners and breakfasts with campaign contributors and volunteers.
Of course, a campaign can be measured in dollars. By that metric, the Joy of the Gospel campaign has been an extraordinary success. At last count, the campaign has raised $62,499,153—exceeding its initial goal, $53,000,000, by a very significant margin.
But the number that matters most, at least according to Bishop Conley, is souls. The true success of the campaign, Bishop Conley says, is the number of families and households who pledged their support: 10,521.
“More than 10,000 households supported the campaign,” Bishop Conley marveled. “I’m moved by how many of our Catholics are committed to the mission of the Church.”
“I am overjoyed by the faith and generosity of the people of our diocese,” Bishop Conley continued. “We have been greatly blessed by a successful campaign, which will help support so many aspects of diocesan ministry.”
The Joy of the Gospel campaign was designed to support critical areas of need across the Diocese of Lincoln: Catholic schools, priest retirement, seminary education, parish projects, and the new evangelization.
The campaign’s success is historic. It represents the largest capital campaign in the history of the Diocese of Lincoln. Campaign organizers explain that the campaign is among the most successful they’ve seen, as measured by participation, and by the rate of pledges.
Msgr. Barr, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Lincoln and Joy of the Gospel campaign director, attributed the campaign’s success to “extraordinary stewardship, developed over a long period of time.” Msgr. Barr noted that while the campaign’s success exceeded expectations, it should come as no surprise to those familiar with the priests and faithful of the Diocese of Lincoln.
“The Catholics of our diocese understand the importance of stewardship,” he said. “They’ve always been willing to sacrifice time, talent, and treasure to the needs of the Church, the poor, and the mission of the Gospel.”
To achieve the campaign’s total goal, each parish was assigned a local goal, and 85% of parishes met or exceeded their goals. Campaign organizers were delighted – and somewhat astounded – that more than 44% of active families in the diocese supported the campaign, pledging the total of 10,521 gifts. The average participation for a capital campaign on this level is usually only 20%.
“The number of families who contributed to the campaign speaks to the faith and missionary spirit of the Catholics in our diocese,” Bishop Conley said.
More than $10,000,000 of the campaign’s funds will support to individual parishes with local needs – a new roof for the church, better access for people in wheelchairs, remodeled kitchens, and new programs of faith formation and evangelization.
Four parishes were already in the middle of capital campaigns when Bishop Conley launched Joy of the Gospel. Those parishes raised $12,000,000, in addition to their support of the diocesan campaign, to help cover the cost of major construction (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in North Platte and St. Michael in Lincoln), renovation (St. Mary in David City) and school expansion (North American Martyrs in Lincoln).
Bishop Conley was tasked to work with diocesan financial leaders, who contributed $16,625,000 to the campaign’s efforts. But the bishop expressed gratitude for every pledge because of the sacrifice with which they were given.
“I’m grateful for every person who has pledged to the campaign— not because of how much they gave, but because they gave sacrificially, as a sign of commitment to the mission of the Gospel,” Bishop Conley said. “If a person pledged $100, and that gift was a sacrifice—I’m grateful.”
Pastors led campaign efforts in each parish, and made substantial pledges of their own. The priests of the Diocese of Lincoln pledged nearly $1,000,000 to the campaign.
Father Thomas Dunavan, pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Falls City since June, led the campaign three times in three different parishes over the last two years. He oversaw the pledge drive at St. Andrew Parish in Tecumseh and St. Mary Parish in St. Mary when he was pastor there.
Both were complete before he was assigned to Falls City, which was slated in the last phase of the campaign. He was well-seasoned at explaining the purpose of the Joy of the Gospel as he introduced it to parishioners, many of whom he was meeting for the first time.
“It gave me the opportunity to meet parishioners and talk to them about generosity and stewardship,” he said. “That’s a good conversation to have at any time.”
In all three parishes, Father Dunavan was blessed to find a generally positive attitude about the campaign.
He spoke of people who pledged money out of their savings or retirement accounts. He spoke of those who would be going straight from making contributions to a previous local campaign to funding the Joy of the Gospel.
He also had instances where parishioners gave more than they had been asked to give.
“That really touched my heart,” he said.
Father Dunavan stressed that there were many people across the diocese doing “the yeomen’s work” in collaboration with their pastors – from the parish secretaries and volunteers who set up appointments, to those who helped telephone or personally call on other parishioners.
“I’m just one guy making a call or going on a visit,” he reasoned. “When I can have five or 10 people doing that with me, that really helps.... There’s something about people who make a sacrificial gift and then invite their fellow laypeople to do the same thing.”
As campaign pledges are fulfilled, the funds will enable the Diocese of Lincoln to support areas of critical need, and to enhance its response to Pope Francis’ call to “embark upon a new chapter of evangelization” in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.
Bishop Conley noted that every dollar raised for Joy of the Gospel is already attributed to the areas of support designated by the campaign plan. “We’re still working, across the Diocese of Lincoln, to achieve a sustainable financial model for the ordinary operations and needs of our diocese. We have to continue to be good stewards, and to be supportive of the Church’s work. But the campaign reminds us how many Catholics are willing to continue giving generously to our mission.”
“I hope that we can build on the success of this campaign, most especially by continuing to grow in faith and holiness,” Bishop Conley said.
Related story: Some campaign funds already in use