DIOCESE HEARS FROM PARISHIONERS ON POTENTIAL FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN
February 7, 2020
by Andy Telli, Tennessee Register
Parishioners had their first chance to comment publicly on the goals and priorities of a potential fundraising campaign for the Diocese of Nashville during an information session held at Christ the King Church in Nashville on Thursday.
“People in this diocese … they speak up,” Bishop J. Mark Spalding said during his opening remarks at the meeting, which was the first of four scheduled at parishes around the diocese. “They let you know what they’re thinking. They’re not shy.”
“What we’re looking at for a diocesan campaign really is something that came from your advice and counsel to me,” Bishop Spalding said. He explained that parishioners often approach him and ask, “What are you going to do about vocations, what are you going to do about Catholic schools, what are you going to do about our outreach to the marginalized … what are you going to do about the growth in the diocese?”
Brian Cooper, Chief Administrative Officer and Vice Chancellor of the diocese, picked up on the bishop’s themes and discussed in more detail five priorities the diocese is considering for a fundraising campaign.
“This is a conversation we’re starting tonight,” Cooper said.
“We want to test some potential priorities,” he added. “We also want to hear about new ideas.
The diocese has contracted with the Steier Group, a national firm based in Omaha, Nebraska, to conduct a feasibility study for a fundraising campaign.
The goal of the campaign would be to address the funding resources for long-term needs, Cooper said. “We’re looking to a more investment approach,” by building endowments that would provide perpetual support for programs, he explained.
The diocese is considering five priorities for a campaign that would address long-term needs “to support a growing and vibrant faith community,” Cooper said. They include:
• Building an endowment to pay for the education of seminarians.
“We’ve got great young men studying to be priests,” Bishop Spalding said. “But that’s becoming more and more of a (financial) challenge for the diocese.”
With 20 seminarians, the diocese ranks among the top in the country based on a per-capita basis, Cooper said. “But we’re just keeping up with retirements.”
The current endowment to help pay for seminarian education is about $5 million, Cooper said. “We’d like to grow it to $15 million.”
• Increasing the endowment for the Advancement of Catholic Education to provide more funds for tuition assistance and to support Catholic schools in the diocese.
“We are the largest non-public K-12 school system in the state, and I think the very best,” Cooper said. “Catholic education has a positive impact on building citizenship and holy families. It’s a priority for the diocese.”
Two years ago, the diocese restructured its efforts to raise funds for tuition assistance as the Advancement of Catholic Education, which set a goal of building its endowment to $30 million, Cooper said. The endowment currently has about $5 million.
An endowment of $30 million would earn about $1.5 million a year to provide more money for tuition assistance, thus making the Catholic school experience available to more students, and to support schools’ efforts to offer a better education, Cooper said.
Currently, the 19 schools in the diocese have a combined enrollment of 4,776 students, Cooper said. That number has been steadily declining over the last decade.
The diocese initiated the Welcome Grants program for this school year to help attract more families to enroll their children in Catholic schools. And the new state Education Savings Accounts program, which will make public funds available for qualified families to enroll their children in private schools, could provide an enrollment boost for Catholic schools, Cooper said.
“We have to work to make the system excellent,” Cooper said. “It comes down to a commitment of funds and the commitment of every school.”
• Raising money for parish growth and expansion.
There are currently about 84,000 registered Catholics in the Diocese of Nashville and about 100,000 regular church-goers, Cooper said. And as the population around Nashville and throughout Middle Tennessee grows, so will the number of Catholics and the need for new and expanded parishes, he said.
The diocese would like to create an endowment of $7 million to $10 million, which would provide money to support the needs of individual parishes as well as funds to buy land for new parishes as it becomes available, Cooper explained.
Last year, the diocese gave $300,000 to parishes in need. With a full endowment, that amount could increase to about $650,000, Cooper said.
• Creating an endowment for Catholic Charities of Tennessee to support its efforts to serve the marginalized.
The diocese has no endowment to support Catholic Charities. “We would like to raise $5 million to $10 million in the future,” Cooper said.
Such an endowment would provide a large, permanent, sustainable funding source. Currently, the diocese provides $500,000 to $600,000 a year to Catholic Charities to support its many services, Cooper said. A full endowment would allow the diocese to double that contribution, he said.
• Individual parish needs. Twenty-five percent of the funds raised in a parish would remain in that parish for whatever projects they deem necessary.
“We want to have every parish prosper and to benefit,” Cooper said. “What’s the big idea you have as a parish to grow the mission?”
The presentation drew several comments from the people attending the meeting.
“I was looking for the section that deals with social justice,” Irene Boyd said. “I would like to see the Church speak out more about social justice issues,” such as the need for more affordable housing, and addressing climate change.
The diocese addresses many of the social justice issues through the work of Catholic Charities, and it makes affordable housing available to senior citizens and child care available to families of all income levels by using a sliding fee scale based on a family’s income, diocesan officials said.
Noting that the diocese is considering raising more money for vocations, Jim O’Hara asked about the substance of the seminarians’ formation. He said the diocese needs more involvement from the laity, particularly women, in selecting and forming seminarians.
Bishop Spalding answered that Pope Francis had made the same point while meeting with bishops from the region during their recent ad limina visit to Rome. “Don’t you know I’m going to bring that up” when speaking to the rectors of the seminaries where the diocese’s seminarians study, the bishop said.
Christ the King parishioner John Green said he was still looking for an answer to the question, “Why should I do this?” rather than focus his financial support on initiatives in his parish.
“I ask the question because I love the Church,” Green said. “One thing I like about the plan is it looks like we’re investing in people and not in things.”
Bishop Spalding answered Green by noting, “Christ the King is one of those parishes that is extremely blessed,” and that before being named Bishop of Nashville was a pastor of a similar parish in Louisville.
“I came from a parish like this. We took care of our own and we helped others,” Bishop Spalding said.
Parishioners would sometimes ask why they were being asked to support other parishes, he said. “There are a thousand reasons not to share blessings. But they can’t top this: I am blessed and God will judge me on how I used those blessings.”
Jamie Kinnaird, one of the representatives of the Steier Group working with the diocese on the feasibility plan for a fundraising campaign, was pleased with the results of the meeting.
“We were really happy with the turnout and excitement, about the level of energy, and the feedback and the number of questions we received,” Kinnaird said.
The feedback from those in the audience will be included in the final report for the diocese, she said.
The diocese is hoping to hear from as many parishioners as possible before finalizing plans for a fundraising campaign, Cooper said. Besides the information sessions being held in parishes, the Steier Group has conducted personal meetings with people, and is asking people to fill out a survey about a potential campaign. People can fill out the survey online by visiting the diocesan website: www.dioceseofnashville.com.
During the meeting at Christ the King, Bishop Spalding said that while visiting the Congregation for Bishops in the Vatican during the ad limina visit, the report from the Diocese of Nashville was discussed with all the bishops from the region.
“Our statistics were so good. And they asked me what’s happening in Nashville,” Bishop Spalding said. “So I talked about you. I talked about our hopes and dreams. We’re very blessed here, it’s a time of great blessing.
“But I’m going to finish with a line I teach your children and grandchildren in Catholic schools,” he said. “To whom much is given, much will be required.”