Development conference: strong faith trumps weak economy

If we can do it, you can do it.

With those nine words, Deacon Nick Simon of St. Anthony’s Parish in Atkinson offered both hope and a challenge to parish and school financial leaders from throughout the Diocese of Peoria doing God’s work in a struggling economy.

Deacon Simon was among the presenters at the 2009 Diocesan Development Conference, which drew a record 155 participants to the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria on Sept. 17.

What the people of St. Anthony’s in Atkinson have done is surpass fundraising expectations for a new parish center and needed improvements for their church. Expectations were that a recent capital campaign might bring in between $200,000 and $200,000 toward the project.

Parishioners pledged more than $500,000.

“No one envisioned we would come so far,” said Deacon Simon, who chaired the parish’s strategic planning committee. He traced the steps that led to the success, which he added has gone beyond finances.

“It’s been an evangelizing project,” said Deacon Simon, noting that Mass attendance and parish involvement are also up.

THE ATKINSON experience served to illustrate themes developed by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and other diocesan leaders earlier in the day.

“God has given us certain abilities and talents,” said Bishop Jenky during a conference-opening Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. “All of us are called by God to use who we are and what we have for service of God and love of neighbor, and we should not hold back.”

That is especially true in today’s weak economy, said William Engelbrecht, diocesan director of advancement.

“We live in very interesting times” marked by salary freezes, high unemployment, and dwindling endowments, he told the group in a morning keynote presentation.

Yet “wealth is still being created” and Americans continue to support their favorite causes, and especially their churches.

“We simply have to work harder and smarter,” Engelbrecht said in encouraging a comprehensive approach to fundraising that also includes gifts and bequests.

MSGR. PAUL Showalter, vicar general of the Diocese of Peoria, acknowledged the “tough challenges ahead” but said that gratitude is still a key to Catholic life.

“Be aware that all is a gift to us,” he told the group. “How grateful I am for the gift of life, for the gift of priesthood.” He added that sometimes the best thing we can do when challenged is “get on your knees and thank God you’re on your feet.”

In addition to the success in Atkinson, conference attendees also heard from representatives of St. Jude Parish in Peoria, a growing faith community that this year opened a new Catholic school. Another afternoon session told how to create productive annual funds for schools, and the day concluded with time for questions and prayer.

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