Thanking high donors

Q. In my parish, there is an appreciation dinner every year for high-end donors, by invitation only. (I would estimate that anywhere from 5 to 7 percent of parishioners attend.) But among the invitees I have not seen people who devote a lot of time working for the parish community but can't afford to contribute enough money to be eligible for the "dinner club."

It strikes me that such fundraising techniques might be appropriate for some other charitable organizations but not for the Catholic Church. As Christians, we are taught to place spiritual values over material ones. It calls to mind the parable of the poor widow who put two small coins into the temple treasury and whom Jesus called more worthy than all the rest. Any thoughts? (Georgia)

A. On occasion, I choose a letter for this column not so much to answer the question posed, but to present what I think is a writer's very valid concern -- hoping that it will prompt some reflection among readers. So it is with today's query.

The situation presented gives a glimpse into the difficult but perennial balancing act between the practicalities of life and what might constitute the ideal.

One of a pastor's responsibilities is to keep a parish afloat financially. The parish provides spiritual enlightenment, pastoral support, educational opportunities and social services to the poor and vulnerable.

To do all of that requires staff and takes money. Fundraisers have long recognized that, while most people are genuinely unselfish in wanting to help, purse strings can be loosened a bit when a donor is recognized and thanked.

But the letter writer points out correctly that there are many ways to serve a parish. We priests are forever reminding our congregations that their generosity can be expressed by sharing "time, talent or treasure." So why not recognize all three ways of giving?

In the parish from which I recently retired, we scheduled an annual "Volunteers' Dinner" to which dozens of people were invited who had offered their help in a wide range of parish programs and projects -- catechists; lectors, ushers and eucharistic ministers; parish council and school board members; home visitors; food pantry workers, etc.

Q. Why do names of churches have to change when parishes merge? I understand that they might not want to have a St. Mary's/St. Joseph's, but the new names are nothing like what we were used to; they are more complicated and difficult to remember. (Latham, New York)

A. Names of churches do not necessarily have to change when parishes merge, and in fact in many instances, the name chosen for the new, merged parish is a combination of the former ones -- as you indicate, "St. Mary's/St. Joseph's."

The new title may be selected by the parishioners of the newly merged parish, with the approval of the diocesan bishop. It can be named after: the Holy Trinity; the Holy Spirit or the angels; Christ, invoked under one of the mysteries of his life; Mary, under one of her traditional titles; or a canonized or beatified saint.

My own experience several years ago might be helpful here: The church a mile down the street from us closed and merged with our own to create a new parish.

Parishioners felt generally that a hyphenated title that would combine the two former names might perpetuate division in the parish; in this, they were supported by a document on mergers issued by our diocese that asked that "a new patron not be a combination of the older names, since a new entity is being formed."

Parishioners of both parishes voted on the same weekend for a name, which was then approved by our bishop. (The title chosen was "Mater Christi," the name of our former diocesan seminary that stood within the boundaries of the new parish.)

You are correct that such mergers can result in a host of new titles, which initially can cause some confusion -- particularly when people are trying to track down their sacramental records. But the upside is that people learn about new saints and new mysteries of their faith. (In our own diocese we now have parishes with such names as Christ Our Light, Our Lady of Hope and Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.)

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at and 30 Columbia Circle Dr. Albany, New York 12203.

- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service