Catholic Foundation Task Force completes planning sessions

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — The diocesan Catholic Education Task Force, which Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., formed earlier this year, has completed its series of four strategic planning sessions and will now begin the process of seeking out potential permanent board members in December.

Comprised of more than 40 volunteers from a variety of backgrounds from across the diocese, the Catholic Foundation Task Force is following the template of the Catholic Education Board Task Force and the Parish Life Task Force which Bishop da Cunha previously established, resulting in permanent boards to oversee diocesan schools and pastoral planning, respectively.

The key goal of this third advisory board is to establish a Catholic Foundation model for fund-raising in the Fall River Diocese.

In an email sent to task force members, Bishop da Cunha thanked everyone for their “passion and commitment … over these last six months” and said he appreciates their efforts to create a “tool to serve and support the vital work of our parishes, our schools, and life-changing ministries.”

Moving forward, Bishop da Cunha said the goal for December is to complete one-on-one visits with all the pastors in the diocese; begin seeking potential Catholic Foundation board members; and launch a search for an executive director for the Catholic Foundation. Once board members are in place, the bishop is hopeful that the Catholic Foundation will formalize articles of incorporation, establish by-laws and an operational budget, and then hire an executive director by April 2018.

Jointly helmed by Father Mark R. Hession, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk, and Pat Carney of the Carney Family Charitable Foundation, the Catholic Foundation Task Force examined how the Catholic 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 during the kickoff meeting in May. “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.”

According to co-chairman Father Hession, the immediate task at hand is to start meeting with “potential founding members” of the board of directors, to “build this community from the ground up, not the top down.”

“We will post a fitting job description for an executive director and conduct a national search to find a qualified person whose demonstrated leadership in Catholic philanthropy will enable him/her to begin working with the new board in developing the human resources and assets for the work of the Foundation,” Father Hession told The Anchor. “Our hope is that by December 31, the bishop may have a group of three to five people in order to inaugurate the Catholic Foundation. He will then continue such conversations and invitations to meet the goal of appointing a ‘Biblical dozen’ in all.”

For task force member Janna Lafrance, she sees the mission of the Catholic Foundation as being to provide not only financial support to diocesan entities, but also to give them guidance.

“Many parishes and schools have been left to figure things out on their own and if we want to support them we need the funds to provide training and guidance,” Lafrance said. “Part of the job of some members of the task force was to go out to the parishes and schools in our diocese and find out what their needs are and how we can help them accomplish the bishop’s mission of ‘Rebuilding in Faith and Hope.’ Many of the responses from the parishes and schools were that they would like guidance on how to grow their programs and attendance.”

“The world of philanthropy has become very sophisticated over the last 20-plus years and our Church hasn’t kept up,” added task force member and president of Baycoast Bank, Nick Christ. “We have more life-changing ministries than any other non-profit around, but we’ve never been great at telling our story. These are all relevant acts that we need to embrace and talk about in order to inspire generosity from those who feel called to give and make a difference.”

Father Hession believes it is the work of a faith family to “call as many people as possible into the labor of love we call supporting the Church,” and to sustain the many ministries and services that the diocese provides to the larger community.

“All of them are in need of sustenance and care, and are deserving of the assurance of a vibrant future,” Father Hession said. “So, as one member puts it, ‘We are seeking women and men with an entrepreneurial spirit — who have a mind for business and a heart for the Lord.’”

Lafrance sees the formation of a Catholic Foundation as a natural extension of the bishop’s multifaceted plan to rebuild the diocese in faith and hope, to paraphrase his pastoral letter.

“It will be a team effort to get our parishes and schools in a healthy situation financially and Spiritually,” she said. “The newly-formed groups will all be working toward the same goal of increasing attendance and involvement in our parishes and schools.”

“I see the Catholic Foundation as a professional consulting service available to all pastors in supporting their responsibilities in areas that are secular and not necessarily Spiritual,” Christ added. “Let the parish priest focus on their strength of faith and Faith Formation and let the Foundation assist the pastors with giving at parish offertories, capital campaigns, school support, Catholic Charities, and the like.”

Father Hession said it’s critical to provide a solid “foundation” to serve as the “ground for the entities of our local Church.”

“So, think of all that we do in our Catholic schools, in our parish Faith Formation programs, with the ongoing education and formation of our lay leaders, our deacons and priests, and the many services we provide for the care of the poor and the sick, to name just a few,” Father Hession said. “All of these will be the beneficiaries of the talented servant-members of the Catholic Foundation, whose mission is to bring relevance and sustainable vitality to God’s works through the Church.”

Although his tenure with the Catholic Foundation Task Force has come to an end, Father Hession hopes to remain involved with the newly-formed Catholic Foundation.

“It’s my hope that the next year will see a strategic plan unfold that will involve our bishop in listening to as many members of the local Church who want to be heard — and who want to give of their time, their talents and their treasure in helping rebuild and revitalize our Church — in faith and hope,” he said. “My own Spiritual hope is that we might enlist 1,000 new co-workers in this rich and historic place we know as the Diocese of Fall River.”

Given the level of involvement he’s witnessed thus far, Bishop da Cunha remains equally optimistic that the newly-formed Catholic Foundation will ultimately bear much fruit in the diocese.

“Jesus started with just 12, but I have already been blessed with more than 40 apostles who have stood together with me on this journey,” the bishop wrote in his email. “I don’t take (their) dedication lightly (and) none of it would be possible without each and every one of (them)!”

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