Pittsburgh’s ‘Church Alive’ Fundraising Campaign Sets Record

Bishop Zubik’s pastoral plan galvanized laity and priests in Pittsburgh to make the campaign the largest sacrificial-giving campaign accomplished by a U.S. diocese.

Bishop Zubik’s evangelical vision of ‘The Church Alive’ inspired the pastoral plan that encouraged Pittsburgh’s faithful to give sacrificially to the record-setting diocesan campaign.
Bishop Zubik’s evangelical vision of ‘The Church Alive’ inspired the pastoral plan that encouraged Pittsburgh’s faithful to give sacrificially to the record-setting diocesan campaign. (photo: Jim Judkis)

PITTSBURGH — When Bishop David Zubik proposed his vision for “The Church Alive” in 2008, little did he imagine that the faithful in the Diocese of Pittsburgh would send a resounding “Yes” in 2015 by pledging a record-setting $230 million for the capital, program and endowment campaign to make the diocese’s pastoral plan a reality.

“I was totally shocked to see the results,” Bishop Zubik said, calling the response from the faithful “so heartwarming.”

“We were just blessed because the campaign’s intent was to do the work of Jesus, the work of the Church.”

The Catholic faithful in the Diocese of Pittsburgh not only exceeded the $125-million target of the initiative, “Our Campaign for The Church Alive!” — its first since the diocese’s founding in 1843 — but their five-year pledges made it the largest diocesan-fundraising campaign in U.S. history, in terms of pledges.

“This is a tribute to all of the faithful of the diocese buying into the vision of the diocese’s pastoral plan,” said Michael Murphy, executive director of the International Catholic Stewardship Council, which tracks diocesan-fundraising campaigns.

Murphy said Pittsburgh’s campaign ranks among the top five fundraising campaigns for dioceses and archdioceses, right alongside the top three heavy hitters: the Chicago, New York and Philadelphia Archdioceses.

According to the Register’s analysis, the Archdiocese of Chicago holds the record for an archdiocesan capital campaign, raising $242 million on a pledge goal of $200 million. The Archdiocese of New York ranks second, with a campaign raising $220 million in its $200-million campaign, while the Archdiocese of Philadelphia fell short of its $200-million goal, raising only $185 million from its pledges.

Murphy said that Pittsburgh’s “phenomenal success” among dioceses and archdioceses of the United States is due to the pastoral plan of Bishop Zubik, who had the “spiritual buy-in” of the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the diocese.

“It is the investment of the people in that vision that helped make this campaign so successful.”


Plan for a ‘Church Alive

Since 2007, when he took the helm of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, his hometown, Bishop Zubik wanted to fire up the faithful to engage in the life of the Church. A conversation with a fallen-away Catholic who stopped believing because he said he had “never seen a genuine Christian” inspired him to pen his 2008 evangelical vision for the diocese called “The Church Alive!”

The bishop embarked on a consultative process that engaged the clergy, religious and lay faithful in forming a pastoral plan for the next 10 years. The plan would shape the scope of the fundraising campaign, identifying 17 funding priorities across the diocese, including evangelization, need-based tuition grants for children in Catholic elementary and secondary schools, religious education, seminarian formation, support for retired and senior priests, Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center and support for the missions.

Bishop Zubik said that they emphasized from the beginning that the campaign was not focused on the money.

“The major purpose of the campaign was to get people more and more involved in the Church, and that is happening,” he said.

Thomas Kissane, principal and managing director of CCS, the consulting firm that assisted the diocese with the campaign, said the pastoral plan that informed the campaign was visionary and “designed to empower the parishioners of the Diocese of Pittsburgh” to take advantage of both “extraordinary opportunities as well as address some pressing needs.”

“The pastoral plan was consultative in nature, it was widespread and not just concentrated on a single issue,” he said. “It was not just about Catholic education, it was not just about vocations, it was not just about evangelization, but captures all of the important motivations.”

Under the campaign plan the diocese and CCS worked out, the parishes were not to be assessed, but simply given goals, set at 175% of their rate of annual offertory over three years. They were also given a guarantee: 40% of whatever they raised in a standard campaign would go to the parish, and 60% would be invested diocesan-wide. But if they exceeded their goals, the equation was flipped: They kept 60% of what they raised, and 40% would go toward the diocese's funding priorities.

The diocese also formed a 501(c)3 corporation to gather the funds and make sure they were used only for the 17 priorities outlined in the pastoral plan. None of the funds were to be used for the diocese’s or parishes’ regular operating expenses.


Priestly Leadership Key

Kissane said the “campaign really served as a partner to the pastoral plan,” and its success depended on the “real vibrancy” of its vision and the “the generosity and leadership of the priests and deacons.”

At first, many priests had reservations that the campaign would be a success. The 2008 recession had hit the faithful hard, many still did not have jobs, and the sacrifice required would be great.

“I said, ‘Okay, the Lord is going to make it happen,’” said Father David Taylor, pastor of St. Charles Lwanga, a predominantly African-American parish in one of the most economically challenged areas of Pittsburgh.

Father Taylor agreed to have his parish among the first 11 parishes to pilot the campaign. It was the first parish to hit its goal and eventually exceeded it by 169%, raising more than $565,000. “I was very surprised at how successful it was,” he said.

The success brought capital improvements to his parish — fixing roofs, updating sound systems and making the church more handicap-accessible — and bolstered diocesan programs that would assist his community’s needs for food, shelter and affordable Catholic education.

But the most important result was the “spiritual regeneration” he saw, as more people committed themselves and became closer to the Church: both to the parish and the diocese.

“They’re now volunteering in other areas of ministry and service,” he said, adding that as a result of the stimulus from the diocese’s larger vision, “we hope to do a lot of evangelization and outreach.”

Father Lawrence DiNardo, the diocese’s vicar general, pastor of Holy Wisdom parish and clergy coordinator of the campaign, said that while priests had their doubts at first, they trusted their bishop. They felt encouraged when the first 11 parishes to pilot the campaign exceeded their goals.

“All of our parishes did very well, and most [two-thirds] went way over” their goals, he said. His own parish had a minimum goal of $240,000 and brought in $740,000. The sacrifices came from many elderly and poor people with fixed incomes who wanted to see the pastoral plan succeed.

“It was not about the money; it’s really about bringing the Church alive,” he said.

The clergy's confidence showed in leading by example. They blew away their target of $500,000 to pledge $3.9 million from their own pockets.

Bishop Zubik, meanwhile, held a series of breakfasts, courting large donors with the pastoral plan, and raised $40 million, exceeding his target of $25 million.


Laity on Fire

The lay faithful’s response to their pastors was the ultimate ingredient in making the campaign an historic success. More than 2,000 people volunteered to reach out to their fellow parishioners, asking them to give sacrificially to the campaign. They succeeded in bringing in more than 44,000 donors, representing close to 130,000 Catholics out of the diocese’s population of 633,000.

“It got people interested in the Church again; it was an evangelization opportunity that kind of took us by surprise,” said Regina Stover, a member of the pastoral council at Our Lady of Grace parish in Scott Township, who co-chaired the campaign for her parish with her husband, Denny Stover.

Many people had doubts at first. The parish had never been involved in a major fundraiser, and parishioners had just come through the recession, which had cost many jobs.

Stover said she thought the bishop’s pastoral plan was a “masterpiece,” because it addressed “all aspects of Church life.” The vision in the bishop’s pastoral plan, coupled with the benefit to the local churches, won people over.

“Everybody we talked to about the case statement from the diocese supported it,” she said, noting that the plan had “something that appealed to everybody.”

They surpassed their $1.5-million target, raising close to $2.3 million. Additionally, Stover said more people became involved in parish activities, the weekly offerings went up, and the parishioners started forming an evangelization committee.

Father DiNardo said many priests were astonished at the level of participation. The diocese received gifts ranging from an anonymous $10-million donation to $84 a boy with Down syndrome gave, after breaking open his piggy banks to contribute the money he had saved for a trip to Broadway: “It showed us that if you lead people, and they know what the message is about, people will participate.”


‘Looking Toward the Future’

Bishop Zubik said the campaign brought forward previously untapped lay leadership that will help grow the Church and is helping the diocese and parishes to re-energize and work together more closely.

“The whole purpose of all of this is that we are looking toward the future to help make our diocese be as strong as it can to meet the demands of the present and look toward the future to make sure those five areas of the Eucharist, evangelization, catechesis, formation and stewardship have ongoing growth in the Church of Pittsburgh.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is the Register's Washington correspondent.

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