MONROE—During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Annual Catholic Appeal responded to urgent needs throughout Fairfield County, from homelessness and hunger to mental health. With this year’s appeal, the Diocese of Bridgeport looks toward renewal and recovery with a vision of hope.
“As I look upon the past year, during a time of unexpected and historic crisis, I am deeply grateful for your generous response to the appeal, which brought the mercy of Christ to so many,” Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said. “This year’s goal is $8.1 million, 10 percent less than last year due to the success of the We Stand With Christ Capital Campaign, and will allow the diocese to maintain the immediate works of charity, formation in faith, education and catechesis, while the capital campaign sustains the long-term mission of the diocese.
The story of St. Jude Church is emblematic of the hope and generosity of Catholics throughout the diocese who contribute to the appeal, which funds essential ministries, programs and agencies that deliver pastoral care and human services where they are most needed.
In less than a month since the appeal began on February 27, St. Jude met its goal of $84,600, inspired by the leadership of Father Henry Hoffman, pastor, and his Annual Appeal team, who provided parishioners with an understanding of how important the campaign is in supporting programs, which no single parish can provide on its own.
Pamela S. Rittman, director of Development and Annual Catholic Appeal, said she is grateful to Father Hoffman and his team. “The value of a strong leadership team, who assists the pastor in the mission of the Church, provides an understanding of the Church in full circle. Our faith, the good works we do and how we make the Gospel known through our giving of time, talent and treasure are the gifts our Lord provides to each and every one to spread the Good News. Our Annual Catholic Appeal does that every day, whether it is providing faith formation, feeding the hungry or instructing children and adults in the faith.”
Father Hoffman began working on a plan in mid-February with Joe Gallagher, chief development officer of the diocese, and Deacon Patrick Toole, episcopal delegate for administration. He later met personally with the parish’s biggest donors. Then, Gallagher launched the campaign at all the parish’s Masses at the end of the month. A comprehensive website was developed to explain the goals and benefits of the appeal.
Gallagher said: “I was honored to be invited by Father Hoffman to help kick off the 2021 Annual Catholic Appeal. I was immediately struck by the strong leadership offered by him and the lay leaders at St. Jude. The diocese is very appreciative of how the parish of St. Jude actively and generously supports the vital ministries, including Catholic Charities, the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund, seminarian formation and care for our retired priests.”
Commenting on his strategy for the appeal, Father Hoffman said: “I made loads of personal one-on-one phone calls to parishioners during the first weeks of March and sent out video messages of me promoting the appeal to the 900 emails we have for our parishioners. I suspected that the more personal phone calls I made, the more successful we would be, and it worked! And I expect more to come in.”
His efforts were augmented by those of the other members of the parish ACA team—Rich Lane, parish council president; Norma and Doug Bissell, co-chairs for the St. Jude appeal; and Deacons John Tuccio and David Flynn. The team launched the appeal in mid-February using the theme of Jesus’ commandment to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
The co-chairs spoke at every Mass on March 6 and 7, and their message was simple—“Many are in need, many who helped can’t help this year and may need help. We all need to help where we can.”
“Our message was delivered to everyone, including the children,” Norma and Doug Bissell said. “To our adults, we emphasized the online process, and for the children, a ‘PENNIES FROM HEAVEN’ bucket was placed in the lobby. The children were encouraged to donate loose change and to take a sticker, thus engaging them in helping others. It is wonderful to hear the clinking at the end of each Mass.”
Because it is important to let parishioners know how the appeal is doing, weekly progress announcements are made from the pulpit, and there is a tracking thermometer in the church lobby, which is updated weekly so that when parishioners enter, they can see how well they are doing.
“St. Jude Church is blessed to have wonderful parishioners who are sacrificing to help the ACA and their neighbors in need,” the Bissells said. “We are profoundly thankful to those parishioners who have taken us this far.”
The parish is exceeding the diocesan goal and plans to split the overage with its sister parish, Blessed Sacrament Church in Bridgeport.
“As a parish, we derive a fulfilling sense of peace that comes from doing God’s work,” the Bissells said. “Our parishioners are generous with their time, money and desire to help others. We have had a long and lasting relationship with Blessed Sacrament. We work with our extended family at Blessed Sacrament to provide assistance when needed, strong hands to work on projects, friendship, a warm heart and smile as we work hand-in-hand.”
The team continues to reach out to parishioners who have not yet made a pledge, asking them to prayerfully consider giving. They say that 300 additional pledges of $15 per month for 10 months ($150 total) will carry them to more than $100,000 in pledges.
“We are acutely aware that parishioners’ financial circumstances vary greatly,” they said. “Father Henry always stresses that no pledge is too small, and a lot of parishioners, committing what they can, make a huge difference.”
Through the appeal goal of $84,600, the parish will help address the immediate needs of diocesan charitable works; schools will be strengthened; youth programs will be funded; and the needs of retired clergy, priests, seminarians, and deacons will be addressed, the Bissells said.
Charitable organizations such as Catholic Charities, whose resources have been heavily impacted this past year, will help address the needs of others by feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and caring for those struggling with developmental and physical issues.
The theme of the 2021 Annual Catholic Appeal is “Arise,” and Bishop Caggiano says it is a statement of hope for renewal and recovery.
“The story of Lazarus continues to come to mind in my reflections,” he said. “The Lord’s words to Lazarus are ‘Untie him and let him go free,’ and that is precisely the invitation from the Lord to each of us—to arise from the darkness of this pandemic and to seek new life in him.”
To make a gift to this year’s appeal, please visit 2021ACABridgeport.com. You my text the word, APPEAL to 475.241.7849 or call 203.416.1470. Please visit the website to view the 2021 Appeal video and learn more. Thank you for your generosity.
CAPTION: (l-r) Rich Lane, parish council chair; Doug and Norma Bissell, ACA co-chairs; Father Henry Hoffman, pastor; Joe Gallagher, chief development officer, Diocese of Bridgeport.