Catholic diocese's Church Alive! fundraising campaign exceeds goals in early phases

| Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013, 9:10 p.m.

The Rev. David Taylor, pastor of St. Charles Lwanga Church, was hesitant to embark on the most ambitious fundraising project the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh ever sponsored.

“This is an economically challenged area. I don't think this parish has any wealthy members, and many members are really financially strapped,” said Taylor, whose church serves residents of Homewood, Wilkinsburg and Lincoln-Lemington.

St. Charles Lwanga raised $570,000, more than twice its target of $210,000, according to the diocese.

The five-year, $125 million Campaign for The Church Alive! enters a new phase this week when 64 more parishes embark on the drive, which began in 2012 and is being extended in stages to all parishes in the diocese.

Parishes will receive at least $50 million of the total raised, according to the diocese; Catholic education will get $42 million; $25 million will go to evangelization; and Catholic Charities and the missions will get $8 million.

Catholics are being asked to give in addition to regular Sunday offerings and the annual Parish Share appeal. About 50 of the diocese's 200 churches have raised about $32 million. Bishop David Zubik raised $35 million.

“It has gone beyond my expectations. Every one of the parishes that has participated in Campaign for The Church Alive! program went over their target goal,” Zubik said.

Without the money, Zubik said, tuition grants for Catholic schools, religious education, technology for secondary schools, Catholic Charities, the education of priests and support for retired priests and other senior citizens would be jeopardized.

Some Catholics say they don't want such programs scaled back or discontinued.

“You can't just take your faith for granted. This kind of sacrifice is important,” Mary Cox, a member of St. Bernard Parish in Mt. Lebanon, said after a morning Mass there last week.

At St. Charles Lwanga, extra money would help. The parish operates a school and two food pantries and is host to meetings for many community activities and social welfare organizations. More than half of the parish's members helped it reach its fundraising target.

“Some members just honestly said they could not contribute. They had very legitimate circumstances,” Taylor said.

The effort comes at a difficult time for the church, which had a decline in membership and school enrollment. Nationally, the church has spent more than $3 billion to settle sexual abuse lawsuits, said Charles Zech, director of the Center for Church Management and Business Ethics at Villanova University.

Zech called it surprising that the Pittsburgh diocese never had a capital campaign before. The Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia had two since 2000, he said.

From 2000 to 2010, church membership among Catholics in Allegheny County declined by 27.2 percent, according to the U.S. congregational membership report released last year by the State College-based Association of Religion Data Archives, which conducted a county-by-county survey of the nation.

At the same time, a poor economy has boosted demands for many of the church's services.

“We certainly know that the cost of schools is increasing. The cost of Catholic Charities is expanding as more people have needed its services,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

Zubik said he is surprised by the response so far, especially from the clergy. The diocese set a goal of $500,000 for contributions from priests, who have donated $2.7 million.

The Rev. Bernard Harcarik, who just celebrated 50 years as a priest and is pastor of Prince of Peace Church in the South Side, is donating half of his salary to the campaign.

“Lots of the money comes back to the parish. A lot of it is used for important services,” said Harcarik, whose 1,000-member parish includes college students, tech workers and the elderly.

“We met our target in a very diverse church,” he said.

Prince of Peace raised $630,000.

Ed McCloskey of Mt. Lebanon, a member of St. Ann parish in Castle Shannon, said he likes the approach the diocese has taken with the fundraising appeal.

“They are only asking for what you can give. Also, the parish gets a large share of it,” he said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or

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