Catholic Extension Society Makes Faith Local

(photo: Catholic Extension/Rich Kalonick)

CATHOLIC OUTREACH. Fathers Fredy Angel and Jack Wall admire the life-size crucifix in the sanctuary of the new church of St. Anthony of Padua Church that Catholic Extension helped to build. Catholic Extension/Rich Kalonick


In 1905, when Father Francis Kelley founded the Catholic Church Extension Society — now known as Catholic Extension ( — he might not have dreamed his efforts to bring priests to minister to Catholics across the American frontier would grow into  something that would eventually be helping 94 mission dioceses across the United States. In 2015, it celebrated its 110th anniversary.

In its 111th year, Catholic Extension remains an indispensable lifeline for many souls.

Within two years of its founding, the headquarters moved from Michigan to Chicago. There, Catholic Extension raised money to send priests by three railcars and a motor chapel across the frontier to bring the sacraments to Catholics who were without a priest or even a church edifice.

Father Kelley also began a quarterly magazine, Extension, telling stories of the good these mission trips accomplished and how faith-filled Catholics were overjoyed to again attend Mass and receive the sacraments. The magazine continues today, including a digital version.

Pope St. Pius X approved the group in 1907 and, in 1910, raised it to a canonical institution under his own guidance and protection. The office of president at Catholic Extension remains a papal appointment.

Now, Catholic Extension’s help affects one in five Catholics who live in 90 of the nearly 200 dioceses across the United States that are defined as “mission dioceses” due to financial need and rural locales. Its history includes 12,000 grants to build or repair churches and facilities; 1,875 grants in 2015 alone to help strengthen faith-filled communities; and current educational assistance for 550 seminarians in 46 dioceses.

Since 1905, through partnering with donors, Catholic Extension has given more than $500 million to 94 mission dioceses across the country.

But money alone doesn’t tell the story.


Helping-Hand Model

“I am so grateful. I don’t think this would be possible to do if it wasn’t for Catholic Extension’s support,” said Father Fredy Angel, pastor of the new church and parish of St. Anthony of Padua ( outside of Ray City, Georgia.

Father Angel’s story actually begins in 2001, when he arrived from Columbia in the Savannah Diocese to study. He is happy to be “one of the beneficiaries of their help to seminarians.”

In 2007, he was named pastor of Queen of Peace Church and its three missions, which had him driving hundreds of miles a week among the four locations in rural southern Georgia. The congregations were separate communities of whites, African-Americans, Latinos and some Asian-Americans and Filipinos.

“Rather than serving them separately, he convinced them of the blessing of being together,” explained Catholic Extension’s president, Father Jack Wall. “He convinced the three disparate communities: Wouldn’t it be better if we can be a blessing to each other?”

They grew excited about the prospect, and Father Angel applied for and received a Catholic Extension $50,000 matching grant for help with fundraising and construction.

The parishioners raised a matching amount.

“We are a small community, farmers — we are not wealthy communities, and we are in the middle of nowhere,” Father Angel said. “We passed the challenge, and we got over $120,000 — something that I couldn’t believe — and we did it.”

In less than a year, the new St. Anthony of Padua Church was built and opened. Speaking of the church, Father Angel said, “The worship space is really important and has to be something beautiful. That help from Catholic Extension helped to build [up] more of the faith of the people and our community,” he said. “Their faith has increased.”

Now Sunday Mass overflows at the new church Bishop Gregory Hartmayer dedicated this past May.

Much to Father Angel’s surprise, he was chosen among all nominees in the country to receive Catholic Extension’s 2015-2016 Lumen Christi Award. That brought more help to the church with its cash prize.

“Catholic Extension also helps people, building faith, inspiring hope and igniting faith, and they really apply to the community,” said Father Angel. “I will be eternally grateful for Catholic Extension.”


President’s Insights

And as Father Wall observed, “He really expresses something going on in every diocese in the United States, as different cultures come together. People are experiencing what it means to be Catholic more than they did a decade ago because of him.”

Catholic Extension wants to see Father Angel’s story repeated in every mission diocese.

According to Father Wall, about 15 million out of the 67 million Catholics in the country are already impacted by the generosity of the people who support them through Catholic Extension.

“The Catholic Church is growing in every one of the dioceses we serve,” he said, “but they just don’t have sufficient resources to serve the poorest of the poor in their communities. The poor there are increasing in these dioceses, and the demand for our part is to continue helping people to not only survive, but thrive.”

In fact, he stressed, “The dioceses themselves don’t have sufficient resources for their parishes and dioceses without the help of Catholics throughout the United States — and the conduit that makes that happen is Catholic Extension.”

Yet there is more to this on a deep level. As Father Wall explained, “A lot of our money goes into the training and development of Catholic leaders,” and “campus ministry is a critical piece of the puzzle.”

“When we come together in those communities, those communities become transformative,” he said. “They are reaching out and living the Gospel life in a transformative way in their communities.”


Diocese’s Major Benefits

“Catholic Extension makes sure that, with those of us in the more financially challenging places, they’re walking the journey with us,” said Bishop Joseph Tyson of the Diocese of Yakima ( in Washington.

He has seen firsthand the growing needs because he was born in the diocese and baptized in St. Paul Cathedral, where he is now bishop. Today, the diocese is about 75% Hispanic, and on Sundays, most people go to Mass in Spanish. Many are employed in the fruit industry.

“If people can’t come to Church, the Church goes to them,” Bishop Tyson said. “That’s why Catholic Extension has been a critical part in this. They also are the biggest supporter for our seminarians. I could not educate our seminarians without their help.”

The annual Catholic appeal brings in about $1.5 million for the entire diocese, and more than $700,000, the biggest factor in the budget, goes to educate and train the diocese’s 12 seminarians. The diocese must augment its money with a sizable block grant from Catholic Extension.

“It’s hugely important,” said Bishop Tyson.

Catholic Extension is helping train nuns from Mexico who will be missionaries to train lay leaders to assist the migrant workers, as well.

Catholic Extension is helping develop the culture of encounter, Bishop Tyson said, because whatever the language, race or culture, the group’s identity is deeply rooted in the Eucharist and Jesus Christ.

Father Wall summed it up this way: “Catholic Extension is not one more charity. It’s part of our identity as Catholics.”

Joseph Pronechen is a

Register staff writer.


EWTN will air an episode on Catholic Extension’s mission in November.