The ongoing growth of the Diocese of Nashville has revealed both needs and opportunities for expanded ministries.
To address those needs and take advantage of the opportunities, the diocese is evaluating the feasibility of a major campaign to raise funds to support the priorities of strengthening parishes, supporting vocations, providing strategic growth initiatives for future churches and schools, and bringing vital social services to those in need.
“During his Look, Listen and Learn tour throughout the diocese last year, Bishop J. Mark Spalding not only heard about the need for expanding these important ministries, but was able to see first-hand the opportunity for revitalization, renewal and substantial growth in the diocese,” said Brian Cooper, Chief Administrative Officer and Vice Chancellor of the diocese.
“Now through the grace of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of Bishop Spalding, the diocese is getting prepared for those endeavors,” Cooper said.
“The core underlying idea is to invest in and grow the entire diocese – both rural and urban – leaving a legacy for future generations of Catholics,” said Cooper.
The diocese has contracted with the Steier Group to conduct a study of the feasibility of conducting a fundraising campaign.
The choice of the Steier Group was made with the assistance of a Selection Advisory Committee, made up of parishioners, distinguished business leaders, pastors, and educators from around the diocese, Cooper said.
“We went with a firm that’s nationally known,” said Ashley Linville, Director of Development for the diocese, who will be responsible for implementing the study. “Steier is one of the larger Catholic fundraising companies that works with dioceses. They’ve got a proven track record of successful campaigns.”
The campaign planning study will kick off in the coming weeks and will run through early spring, Linville said.
“We’ll be asking for people’s feedback in a few different ways,” he said. “Over the next few months everyone in the diocese is going to be asked to participate either in a brief interview or a mailed questionnaire. They’ll also have an opportunity to fill out an online survey.”
Under the oversight of Brian Cooper, the campaign planning study will build on three ongoing strategic planning processes: one for Catholic Charities of Tennessee, another for Catholic schools in the diocese, and a third for the diocese itself.
These independent strategic planning processes have identified several needs, Cooper said.
“A lot of the needs are in direct response to the growth in the diocese,” he added. “There’s been a lot of growth in the whole Middle Tennessee region. More Catholics moving here translates into more opportunities and need for ministries.”
The diocese has identified five priorities for a potential fundraising campaign. They include:
• Vocations. “We’ve got almost two dozen seminarians who are currently in formation. With the growing Nashville population and many priests nearing retirement, we’re taking steps to further increase the number of seminarians to ensure the future needs of the Church are met,” Cooper said.
The goal would be to raise money to increase an existing endowment that supports the efforts of the diocesan Vocations Office, he said. “To continue to support the growth of this program, our current level of funding is not sustainable.”
Significantly increasing the endowment for vocations and seminarian education will provide a permanent and sustainable funding source, allowing the diocese to educate its seminarians and send priests into ministry, Cooper said.
• Catholic Education. Again, the plan is to significantly increase the Advancement of Catholic Education endowment, which currently totals $5 million, Cooper said.
The ACE endowment helps provide financial assistance to students at diocesan schools, including the Welcome Grants program, new this school year, which provided tuition assistance for families new to Catholic schools. The response to the program prompted the diocese to nearly double the number of Welcome Grants it originally planned to fund.
But the revenue produced by the current endowment is not enough to meet the needs of all the Catholic families who want a Catholic education for their children, Cooper said.
A larger endowment would make Catholic schools more accessible to more families, more affordable for existing families, and “strengthen our academic program and help students grow in the faith,” Cooper said. “If we have a more robust endowment, it will allow the diocese to provide a more robust experience for more students.”
Besides an increased ACE endowment, the state’s new Education Savings Account program, which would allow parents to use state funds to send their children to private and parochial schools, could be transformative for the growth of Catholic schools, Cooper said.
An expanded ACE endowment and the Education Savings Account program together would significantly boost enrollment for Catholic schools, he said.
• Parish and School Expansion. “Our tremendous population growth also presents opportunities for serving more of our fellow Catholics, both in church and in the classroom,” Cooper said.
“There’re a lot of areas of growth that don’t have a Catholic church or school,” he said. In other areas, where increased traffic congestion has followed growth, parishes and schools are not as easily accessible as they once were, Cooper said.
Using funds to help pay for building new parishes and schools will improve access to worship and education, strengthening the faith, discipleship and families, Cooper said.
• Helping the Marginalized. That help comes chiefly through Catholic Charities of Tennessee, which is funded primarily through diocesan support and government contracts and grants.
Catholic Charities is uniquely positioned for helping the rapidly growing community of those in need, “But to do that they need increased funding,” Cooper said.
“It’s important that they are able to be nimble and are able to expand programs when opportunities arise,” he added.
The goal would be to raise funds for an endowment for Catholic Charities to provide a significant and permanent funding source, Cooper said.
• Individual Parish Needs. “Every parish has needs that they have to address to carry out their mission in serving their community,” Cooper said. “If we do carry out a major fundraising effort, we plan to allocate a significant amount of the funds collected back to the individual parishes for their own needs and projects.”
Linville explained the planning study for a potential fundraising campaign is specifically designed to look at the feasibility and capacity for funding these important priorities.
“The campaign planning study is going to provide an idea of what your stakeholders feel about the priorities and if any are missing,” he said. “You’re asking your stakeholders – pastors, parishioners, donors – if these are things they can support.”
The Steier Group is expected to provide conclusions and recommendations from the planning study to the bishop by early spring 2020, Linville said.
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