Bishop launches ‘One in Christ’ 2023 appeal

BRIDGEPORT — Bishop Frank J. Caggiano launched the 2023 Bishop’s Appeal with the theme “One in Christ,” calling it an urgent message “more important than ever as we work toward unity in our Church and in our society.”

The Appeal’s goal is $8.1 million, unchanged from last year, and each parish will determine how it will use funds that are raised over their goal by June 30, he said.

“I ask you to consider the many ways the Appeal unites the diocese in service, compassion and faith,” Bishop Caggiano said. “It is my prayer to bring our sisters and brothers together to encounter ‘The One’ and embrace the power of Jesus in our lives … In this year of Eucharistic Revival, please join in an effort that heals wounds, gives us hope and brings us together as one family in Christ.”

Reflecting on the theme “One in Christ,” he said, “All of the good works we perform are accomplished in the name of Christ and are expressions of our oneness in Him. As we work toward the renewal of the diocese, our task is nothing less than to invite people into the Mystical Body of Christ by creating welcoming, vital and loving communities of faith.”

Bishop Caggiano said the Bishop’s Appeal is a crucial vehicle to achieve those goals and that two initiatives begun last year are already helping the diocese move forward in its renewal.

“The Seton Collaborative is bringing much needed Information Technology and business operational support to our parishes and schools,” he said. “Likewise, the new Sacred Heart Guild is opening up the power of beauty through sacred art, music and literature in the Catholic tradition. World Youth Day will be celebrated this year and bring hope to young people in our diocese, along with hundreds of thousands of others who are committing their lives to Christ.”

The 2023 Appeal will be led by co-chairs Paula Summa and Jim O’Neill of St. Paul Parish in Greenwich and Monsignor Robert E. Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown. Morgan and Mark Mooney of St. Pius X Parish in Fairfield have been named this year’s vice chair couple.

“I think we all have to remember the Church is larger than our parishes, and we have a responsibility not just to support our parishes but to support the works of the diocese as well,” Monsignor Weiss said. “It is really important that we stand behind the Appeal because to me these are the Gospel mandates that Christ gave to us, especially to do work with the poor, to feed the hungry — the Corporal Works of Mercy, as well as the Spiritual Works of Mercy.”

Monsignor Weiss said the diocese comprises the very rich and the very poor and that both groups need resources, whether it be counseling or food and shelter.

Supporting vocations is another major consideration, and St. Rose of Lima has had vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and the religious life in recent years.

Monsignor Weiss also emphasized the importance of supporting retired religious. He is especially aware of that need, he joked, now that his own retirement approaches.

Since COVID, the number of people participating in the annual appeal has declined, he said.

“Unfortunately, we tend to rely on a few to reach our goals, but we really have to encourage people to participate beyond the smaller average who are doing now,” Monsignor Weiss said.

His parish went over its $60,000 goal last year by $53,000 because of generous donors.  strong participation – 497 parishioners at St. Rose of Lima contributed to the Bishop’s Appeal, more than any other parish in the diocese.

“But it’s really important that we work on achieving a higher percentage of donors in all our parish communities,” Monsignor Weiss said. “Every dollar makes a difference. We aren’t necessarily asking for $5,000, but that you make a donation within your means.”

Paula Summa and her husband Jim O’Neill were asked to be co-chairs this year, stepping up from their previous role as Vice Chair Couple for the 2022 Bishop’s Appeal. They describe themselves as retired “former IBMers, who try to help the Church in any way we can.”

“‘One in Christ’ is what it’s about,” Summa said. “It is one Church, which means we have to be concerned with not only what takes place at the parish level but beyond. The Bishop’s Appeal is necessary to achieve that goal.”

O’Neill believes the theme of the Appeal calls to mind our profession of faith in the Nicene Creed, which defines us as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” He encourages Catholics to look beyond the borders of their parishes and support the Appeal, which funds programs and ministries for education, retired religious, seminarians, and other initiatives that provide works of charity, formation in faith, education and catechesis.

Summa and O’Neill, who are products of K-to-12 Catholic education, have a special passion for programs “that provide opportunities for our children to be in a safe, nurturing environment that instills the values of our faith,” pointing out that those who receive a Catholic education are more likely to attend Mass as adults.

“Catholic education helps promote the Church of the future, which is very important because we live in a secular world that is hostile to our faith,” Summa said.

O’Neill believes Catholic education is preparing “the farm team for the future.”

“Faith formation is also valuable because it trains people in other ministries — from lectors to catechists — at the parish level,” he said.

Having spent time with the retired priests at The Catherine Dennis Keefe Queen of the Clergy Residence in Stamford, the couple praised them for the pastoral work they continue to do and point out that most of the so-called “retired priests” are still as active as when they served in parishes.

“The Bishop’s Appeal helps these people who gave their lives to serve us,” Summa said.

Similarly, the Appeal helps the Redemptoris Mater Diocesan Missionary Seminary of Bridgeport, where young men are in formation for the priesthood.

This year, the couple is committed to increasing participation in the Appeal because there are 8,000 fewer donors than there were several years ago.

“If those 8,000 people gave $100, that is 27 cents a day or $8 a month, it would raise an additional $800,000,” O’Neill said. “It’s not only the money, it’s the involvement. We are the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,’ so let’s all work together and get in the boat and row.”

They expressed appreciation to the nearly 15,000 people who supported last year’s Appeal and asked for their continued support. In addition, they applauded the ten parishes that exceeded their goal and shared the benefits with other needy parishes in the diocese.

“They didn’t put it in their pocket,” O’Neill said. “They were willing to help other parishes who have a difficult environment. They were looking beyond the borders of their parish.”

While they acknowledged that we are living in an inflationary and recessionary time that is challenging, they stressed that those in need are confronting even greater challenges.

“If we can increase participation and give a little more — to the extent that we can —we are helping those who are less fortunate,” he said.

Summa has many years of experience in various financial executive and general management positions at IBM.  She has a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting as well as an MBA in accounting and finance from Pace University. She was a member of the Pace University Lubin School of Business Advisory Board and Executive-in-Residence. She is currently a board member of Foundations in Education and serves on the Finance, Audit and Innovation and Leadership Committees.  At St. Paul Parish, she is an extraordinary minister, catechist, reader, Finance Council member and board member of Greenwich Chaplaincy Services.

O’Neill is a non-practicing CPA, member of the Knights of Columbus, retired IBM financial executive and board member of Atradius Trade Credit Insurance. He has a BBA in accountancy practice from Pace University and an MBA in finance from Columbia University.  He served as non-executive treasurer and board member of the United Way of Westchester and Putnam.  Currently, he serves on the Finance Council of St. Paul Parish, the Finance Committee of Foundations in Education and assists at Kolbe Cathedral High School. Both Paula and Jim are members of Legatus.

Commenting on this year’s Appeal, Pamela S. Rittman, director of the Bishop’s Appeal said: “When we give through the Bishop’s Appeal, we are taking part in what Christ asks each of us to do, to care for one another, to be a light and witness of Christ’s love, and to assist those who are continuing to spread the Gospel. Our diocesan programs are focused exactly on these goals. Our Lord blesses us each and every day, so let us continue to assist him by making the means available to fund vital programs. We are grateful for each and every gift, so please know you are making a difference in the lives of people you may never meet.”