Archbishop thanks Catholic Appeal donors

LYNNFIELD — Customarily donors who make a significant monetary contribution to the annual appeal each year receive a letter of thanks in the mail from the leader of the Archdiocese of Boston. This year, however, Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley started a new tradition by scheduling several meetings with donors from across the archdiocese to thank them personally for their support.

The archbishop spent over two hours April 20 visiting with approximately 125 members of the Archdiocesan Appeal Guild, who helped in part to contribute over $10.3 million to the 2003 Annual Catholic Appeal, which concluded April 15. The Appeal Guild, explained Damien DeVasto, director of the Annual Catholic Appeal, is comprised of parishioners who donate at least $500.

Those gathered at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Lynnfield, were just a small portion of the nearly 47,000 people who donated to the 2003 appeal, helping to surpass its goal of $9 million. The goal for the 2004 appeal, tagged “Together in Faith,” which will begin May 1, has been set at $10.5 million.

Archbishop O’Malley received a standing ovation from the crowd after which he expressed his gratitude to them for their help in funding the many works of the Church. Over 80 programs, ministries and services of the archdiocese benefit from monies raised through the appeal.

“I wanted the opportunity to meet with you personally to let you know how important you are,” the archbishop told those in the audience. “You are making a very real difference in the lives of people in your parish and in the archdiocese.”

By donating to the annual appeal, Christ “has allowed us to be a part of His mission,” he said.

 The archbishop then switched topics to address the sale of over 46 acres of the Brighton chancery campus that had been announced earlier that day. He said that the archdiocese was “very pleased that Boston College has made us an attractive offer” because the property will remain within the Church family.

The archbishop went on to state that he decided to sell the Brighton land and property to demonstrate to Catholics that money generated from the Catholic Appeal and parish closings would not be used to fund the clergy abuse settlement. He called reconfiguration “a very challenging thing for the [arch]diocese to do,” but a necessary step to secure the stability of the archdiocese in the future.

Because of changing demographics, aging clergy and millions of dollars in repair need by many churches, it is impossible and unrealistic to maintain all of the parishes currently operating, he said.

“It is a painful process, and it saddens me that we need to close parishes,” he said. However, “we need to confront that situation and be not only responsible for the here and now but for the Church in the future,” Archbishop O’Malley stated.

He described the entire process leading up to his final decision of which parishes should close as a “long process that is being reviewed again and again to try to come up with the best decisions.”

Archbishop O’Malley said that he will make an address on Boston Catholic Television (BCTV) in mid-May to convey his “immediate and long term” vision for the Archdiocese of Boston. Parish closings, he said, will revitalize the parishes that remain open.

Those in attendance also heard from Rosemary Burke of Stoneham, who spoke of the importance of healthcare ministry, just one of the ministries funded by the appeal. Burke became involved in ministering to the sick when her daughter died of leukemia approximately 25 years ago at the age of 15.

It was Father James F. Hickey, now pastor of Holy Family Parish in Rockland, who helped her to see how important comforting and praying with the sick is when he did the same for her daughter. That experience changed her life, Burke said, and she now works at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford praying and visiting with the sick and their families.

“You don’t know how many lives have been touched because of the Office of Healthcare Ministry ... and because of the help given to that department by people like you,” she said.

It is stories like Burke’s that inspire Kathleen Garon and her husband to contribute money to the appeal each year. “The appeal is very important because there are so many needs out there, and they are all needs that have to be met,” said Garon, a parishioner at St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence, who attended the meeting. “We have been [financially] blessed by God, and that’s why we give back.”

Also at the meeting was Adele Hamblett, a parishioner at St. Eulalia Parish in Winchester, who has given to the appeal consistently for many years. She never understood why people, angered by the sex abuse crisis, withheld their contributions.

“Church means we are a part of this together,” she said. “Punishing people who need assistance the most because we are angry makes zero sense to me.”

The total amount raised by the appeal has decreased by over $5 million in the years since the scandal erupted.

Donating to the appeal is even more important today because of cuts in state programs for the needy, she said. The Catholic Church is one of the greatest providers of services and assistance to people in need, Hamblett said.

“If the Church cannot provide these services, where are people going to go?” she asked. “The Church does not discriminate. If people present a need, the Church will provide.”