By Kenneth J. Souza
FALL RIVER, Mass. — There’s serendipity in the fact that the 75th anniversary of the Fall River Diocese’s annual Catholic Charities Appeal just happens to fall within the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“I think Pope Francis’ recent exhortation about how to express mercy is inextricably tied to the work of the Catholic Charities Appeal and Catholic Social Services,” said James Campbell, director of the diocesan Development Office and the Appeal. “I think the pope’s example is right in line with what our messaging is.”
In the midst of planning several kickoff meetings and on the threshold of launching his fourth consecutive Catholic Charities campaign, Campbell shared his plans and aspirations for this year’s silver anniversary Appeal with The Anchor.
“We have chosen the theme of ‘Open your heart to mercy,’ playing off the Vatican’s Year of Mercy,” Campbell said. “Symbolically, we’ve designed the brochure this year, so that when you open it up, the first thing you see are two church doors. I think Pope Francis made a point of saying that there should be a church door that symbolically opens as a sign that this is the Year of Mercy; and the brochure incorporates elements of that, asking people to open their heart to mercy.”
Given that most of the ministries supported by the Appeal are mandates of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, Campbell felt the theme was a natural fit.
“This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the Catholic Charities Appeal,” he added. “It wouldn’t appear so if you look at the numbers, because it started in 1942, so you would think 2017 would be the 75th, but you have to remember to count the first year — 1942 was the first year, 1966 was the 25th, 1996 was the 50th year — so this is the 75th Appeal.”
To that end, Campbell said they are putting together a special 12-page edition of Sharings, the Appeal newsletter, that will trace the history of Catholic Charities and include some important milestone moments.
“We’re going to highlight the fact that the Catholic Charities Appeal in the Diocese of Fall River actually began as a wartime effort,” Campbell said. “It was a response from Bishop James Cassidy to answer a need for the parishes to mobilize in support of the war effort — things like chaplaincy support and war relief. I didn’t realize that, but we found out about it when going through the archives.”
According to Campbell, the debut Catholic Charities Appeal was launched in April of 1942 — just months after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
“The goal of that first Appeal was to raise $100,000 and they exceeded that by $25,000, so it was a pretty successful effort,” Campbell said. “One of the things I discovered in terms of purchasing power was that original Appeal total of $125,000 would translate to about $2 million today.”
Another way the development office is celebrating the 75th anniversary is by offering what Campbell called “a token of appreciation” to potential donors in the form of a commemorative bookmark.
“That’s something we’ve never done before,” he explained. “We came up with a bookmark with a quote from the bishop on one side, and a quote from Pope Francis on the other. It reads: ‘As a token of gratitude for your consideration.’ Whether or not people decide to give a gift is up to them, but we wanted to do this. It has the 75th anniversary logo on it as well. It’s going to be distributed in person to each of the parishes and the pastors have the discretion as to whether they want to leave it at the back of the church or make it a part of their Appeal (mailing).”
With the Holy Father serving as the Church’s guiding counsel and Bishop da Cunha setting the example here in the diocese, Campbell took advantage of a compelling photo of the two complimentary shepherds for the cover of this year’s Appeal brochure.
“The photo of Bishop da Cunha with Pope Francis was taken in Rome prior to his being named the Bishop of Fall River,” Campbell said. “We have the photo and a quote from Pope Francis about the Year of Mercy on the cover. When you turn the cover page, that’s where you come to the two church doors that open up to the rest of the material inside the brochure.”
With the looming May 1 start date for the 2016 Catholic Charities Appeal just around the corner, Campbell said they have already completed the informational videos that are sent to parishes to inform the faithful about this year’s campaign. Instead of hiring a professional narrator to provide the voice-over on the programs, however, Campbell said Bishop da Cunha provided the commentary himself in all three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese.
“That required a great deal of effort on the part of the bishop,” Campbell said. “He had to go into a sound studio and read the script three different times in each language. We also made it a little bit harder on ourselves this year. We did three versions for three different kickoffs — one for the Attleboro/Taunton area, one for the Fall River/New Bedford area, and another for Cape Cod and the Islands. So there’s three versions in three languages, or nine different versions total.”
The full 15-minute videos — which highlight the various ministries and diocesan services that directly benefit from the Catholic Charities Appeal — have also been edited down to shorter, seven-minute versions for use during weekend Masses or to be embedded on parish websites.
Another change that Campbell implemented this year was where the various Appeal kickoff events were to be held. Instead of venues like White’s of Westport or the Cape Codder, they decided to host the three kickoff receptions at diocesan schools: one at Bishop Feehan High School (Attleboro/Taunton); one at Bishop Connolly High School (Fall River/New Bedford); and one at St. John Paul II High School (Cape Cod).
“One of the things I heard over and over again since I started three years ago was a complaint that we spent too lavishly on our kickoff events,” he said. “The kickoff events are important to help rally the troops and to educate people and motivate the volunteers to go out and advocate for Catholic Charities, but I guess the complaint was we didn’t need to spend money on such a lavish meal or locale.”
Campbell said he consulted with Bishop da Cunha about using diocesan high schools and, in turn, getting the students more directly involved with the Catholic Charities Appeal.
“The notion was twofold: one, it’s a diocesan facility so it wouldn’t cost us anything to rent; and two, it would give us an opportunity to integrate the students, who were learning about Catholic social teaching, with the parish volunteers, who are practicing in their advocacy for the Appeal,” he said. “That was the goal — to simplify the presentation and to do a better job of integrating our teaching with our practice.”
Campbell said he’s been very impressed with the cooperation he’s received from all the high school administrators, faculty and staff.
“They really have embraced this idea,” he said.
He also wanted to make a point that this was one change that was made in response to feedback from others.
“When people write to us, we hear them,” he added. “We may not always react the way they want us to, but we do take it all into consideration and the fact that we’ve rejiggered the way we do the kickoffs I think is a testament to that.”
With three successful Appeal efforts now under his belt, Campbell said he hopes to set another record this year as far as charitable support.
“I recognize that in some quarters folks are worried about the impact of the diocesan assessment on people’s charitable giving,” he said. “But the message that Bishop da Cunha has been using in talking to people about that is we all — collectively, as a diocese — have to move from being just in maintenance mode to mission mode. Part of that means not overlooking our obligation to the poor and these ministries that are essential to our identity as Catholics.”
Having raised nearly $4.6 million during last year’s Appeal, Campbell aspires to reach the $5 million mark during this silver anniversary year.
“That’s a big jump and it’s going to require some extraordinary gifts, but I think we have the capability to do so,” he said. “Despite the fact that we are asking our parishes and parishioners to do more, we are hoping they will take up the mantel willingly.
“Based on the early conversations I’ve had with people, I’m reasonably optimistic that we’re going to be able to again achieve a record level of generosity.”
The 75th annual Catholic Charities Appeal will take place from May 1 through June 30, 2016. For more information, visit www.frdioc-catholiccharities.org.