New Catholic Foundation Task Force to examine diocesan fund-raising model

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — Having previously established a Catholic Education Task Force, which recommended the appointment of a new diocesan Central Board for Catholic Education, and the Parish Life Task force, which continues to work toward creating a similar board to oversee pastoral planning, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., recently created a Catholic Foundation Task Force, which will be charged with examining how a Catholic Foundation model could benefit diocesan fund-raising efforts.

Jointly helmed by Father Mark R. Hession, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk, and Patrick Carney, CEO of Claremont Companies and parishioner at St. Mary’s in South Dartmouth, the Catholic Foundation Task Force will study how the foundation model might serve the local Church and support the needs and goals of the pastors, parishes, schools, programs and ministries of the Fall River Diocese.

“Today in the United States, there are 196 Catholic dioceses and half of them have a Catholic Foundation to sponsor the good works of the diocese,” Carney said. “Half of those are fully participating and at work, while the other half are in the process of getting launched, so I think the timing is great that the bishop came up with this task force to look at what we could do in our diocese.”

The Foundation Task Force held its first organizational meeting May 9 at The Cove Restaurant in Fall River, with about 50 members in attendance.

While Father Hession was away on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, Carney served as sole master of ceremonies for this kickoff event.

With extensive experience in philanthropy and fund-raising for the last 68 years, Carney stressed: “We haven’t fully tapped the potential that exists in our area for gifts,” he said. “We’re so blessed in that we have so many summer residents in addition to our year-round residents who come to the Cape and Nantucket and the Vineyard and I’ve been a firm believer that with a little more outreach we can do so much more.”

The Task Force membership is comprised of those who were invited to join by Bishop da Cunha, Father Hession or Carney and will be organized into several subcommittees that may or may not be tasked with studying:

— Mission and Case (Catholic identity, stewardship and development activities);

— Governance (general powers, structure, committees, management and investment policies, procedures); and

— Administration (donor services, organization, operation and budget).

Each of these subcommittees will seek out the expertise of various people and sources for advice and guidance and will study best-practice models of other Catholic Foundations, along with Catholic colleges, universities and other non-profit organizations locally and nationally.

The ultimate goal of the Foundation Task Force will be to prepare and share its final recommendations in the way of a newly-formed Catholic Foundation that will best serve the Church in the Diocese of Fall River.

Referencing Bishop da Cunha’s recent pastoral letter, “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope,” Marilyn Blanchette, facilitator of the Catholic Foundation Task Force, said it has provided the group with a clear road map that is “rich with vision and direction.”

“The bishop said that rebuilding in faith and hope begins by celebrating the gifts that we’ve been given in a spirit of gratitude and acknowledges the strengths that we can build upon,” Blanchette said. “This is your first order of business. Thinking about what it is that we celebrate the most about our Church, and what it is that we find are those key strengths that we can build upon as we go forward.”

Indeed, one of the key parts of the bishop’s plan to revive and rebuild the diocese is to reach out to and seek assistance from the laity in the process.

“I’m discovering each day that there are so many good people in our diocese who have been waiting for an opportunity,” Bishop da Cunha said. “There are so many talents here that can be used for the good of the Church. There is no way that I could do this work alone, or even just the priests. In my pastoral letter I emphasized that no parish, no diocese, no institution will be sustainable and vital for the future if we don’t involve the laity with their gifts and talents in this mission.”

While the idea of asking for money or seeking donations can sometimes carry a negative connotation, the bishop explained how these financial resources are essential to carrying out the Church’s mission here in the diocese.

“We are running a mission, but this mission needs a good, strong business administration, with all our institutions in the diocese — our parishes, our schools, and our financial resources — coming together to make a difference, and to make the mission of forming and becoming disciples and leading people to holiness,” he said. “That’s where you all come in — with your talents, with your expertise, with your experience, and all your resources.

“In order to carry out this mission of making disciples and reaching holiness and saving souls and sanctifying us and our families and our world, we need an organized, professional, effective diocese. We need vibrant parishes, with quality Liturgies and services and ministries — otherwise people are not going to be attracted and come to be the disciples that we need them to be.”

Like most of the laity who answered the call to serve on the task force, Carney said he considers himself blessed and this is just one way for him to give back to his Church, his diocese and his community.

“I’m very blessed, I had the opportunity to go through 16 years of Catholic education — eight years at Holy Family School in New Bedford, four years at Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth, and then four years at Boston College,” Carney said. “And I feel my life has been blessed because of Catholic education.

“I said yes because I have such faith in Bishop da Cunha’s leadership, I believe the needs of our diocese are great, and I think Bishop da Cunha has been so transparent in talking about what the problems are in our diocese and coming up with creative solutions. That’s why I’m here.”

In his keynote remarks, Michael F. Sinkus, senior consultant for Marts and Lundy, explained how charitable fund-raising efforts — especially on the diocesan level — have changed over the last 10 years and why the establishment of a Catholic Foundation would be beneficial.

“I think diocesan fund-raising across America until about 10 years ago was pretty much at the force or the will of individual bishops,” he said. “It was almost all done on the basis of their skill set and their personalities.”

While individual donations have declined of late, overall charitable giving has increased. In fact, last year was America’s most generous year, with an estimated $373 billion given to charities.

“Giving in this country is a huge phenomenon,” Sinkus said. “And the largest recipient of philanthropy is religion. What’s interesting is more people are giving money to foundations — so everything is changing in this realm. We’re thinking over the next two to three years, philanthropy in this area is going to grow by 3.2 percent.”

With these changes in mind, the notion of simply doing a door-to-door campaign — which is how the diocesan Catholic Charities Appeal began 76 years ago — or even a simple direct-mail solicitation letter are no longer as effective.

“If you want to raise money, ask people. You can’t be shy about it,” Carney said. “And it’s not enough to just get a letter in the mail or to hear a plea from the pulpit — which is all good, don’t get me wrong. But the one-on-one contact is the magic potion that really gets results.”

“Big donors want to promote change and they want to promote it sooner than later,” Sinkus agreed. “They’re interested in looking at problems now and (funding) solutions. This is changing all over the country right now because it has to — and the dioceses are saying ‘Hey, we’re in the front line of this and we deserve our fair share,’ and acting locally means our share comes first.”

According to Kevin R. Kiley, chancellor and CFO of the Fall River Diocese, success moving forward is going to require not only a commitment from the top — beginning with Bishop da Cunha and his brother priests — but also from the “engaged and talented laity” of the diocese.

“When I first took this job, I heard this was going to be a tiger by the tail, but I knew that God was going to put people in front of me to help,” Kiley said. “I’m blessed to have these people helping me on a regular basis and we’re all blessed, as a diocese, to have you as well. At the end of the day, we have to be a team, and not the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. And I’m grateful that so much is headed in the right direction.”

Echoing Kiley’s sentiments, Bishop da Cunha said he is “encouraged and hopeful for the future of our diocese” after listening to the input from task force members.

“I’ve been preparing my garden and I’ve been waiting for the weather to get a little warmer so I can actually plant the seeds,” Bishop da Cunha said. “I think today we planted a lot of seeds here. But now we’ve got to nourish it — we’ve got to water it, we’ve got to make it grow.

“What an inspiration it has been to hear all of you today saying you want to be a part of this, you want to make a difference. With the priests and the laity and all of you, we will reach what the Lord asks us to do. We will get there with our generosity, with our gifts and talents, to make this diocese beautiful — to rebuild together in faith and hope.”

Future Catholic Foundation Task Force meetings will be held on Tuesday, June 20 at 11 a.m. at Alberto’s Ristorante in Hyannis; Tuesday, September 12 at 11 a.m. at the Mezza Luna in Buzzards Bay; and Tuesday, October 10 at 11 a.m. at The Cove in Fall River.

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