Former Bishop of Superior, Bishop Peter Christensen, is pictured in 2013 with then-seminarian Samuel Schneider at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul. Behind them is an icon created by the bishop and used to develop the “Faith in our Future” campaign logo. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski

Six years after the launch of the “Faith in our Future” capital campaign, two men in lead roles for the diocese believe the overall impact has yet to be seen.

Steve Tarnowski, director of Development and Stewardship, and Dan Blank, director of administrative services, shared thoughts on the collection phase of the campaign, which wrapped up at the end of 2018.

Blank remembers attending the reception with Bishop Peter Christensen at his parish, St. Francis Xavier in Superior. He was impressed at the time by the “very well-coordinated presentation and outreach effort” and felt good about being a part of something beyond his home parish.

Now starting his third year working for the diocese, Blank’s awareness of the bigger picture for the diocese continues to expand. He had not realized the challenges that a bishop could face in faithfully operating a diocese.

Blank said, “I feel like that (the capital campaign) paid dividends not only in financial contributions but a renewed sense of connection and a call to be more engaged in parishes. It felt like a resurgence of connection to the parish … and an awareness that we’re part of the diocese; and that the diocese has big needs that are beyond our smaller needs at the parish level.”

He commented on Tarnowski’s continued efforts to broaden the understanding of stewardship.

“It’s not always about the money – it’s engagement, activation, invitation, welcoming. People need to hear that they have something valuable to offer,” Blank shared. His hope is that opportunities continue to be offered and bold invitations made.

For Tarnowski, much of the campaign’s success can be traced to the feasibility studies conducted before “Faith in our Future” launched, as well as the company the diocese chose to manage the fundraising. He also noted Bishop Christensen’s charismatic personality, personal commitment to attending parish receptions to be “out there and face-to-face with people,” and his confidence in their success.

After receiving a grant from Catholic Extension for $50,000 to fund the feasibility study, Tarnowski and a team of others chose to work with the consulting firm Guidance in Giving, Inc.

They were impressed with the company’s success in the neighboring Marquette Diocese, helping them achieve their funding goal even on the heels of the 2008 recession. Guidance in Giving relocated a four-person staff to Superior for 12 months. Under the leadership of Michael Goodwin – whose attitude Tarnowski described as “all hands on deck” – the diocese engaged in the process of assessing needs and opportunities, and developing the campaign.

Tarnowski noted the power of example, positive word of mouth and rebates received by parishes and schools were key motivators throughout the campaign, despite the doubts of some major donors early on.

He shared that St. Joseph’s Parish in Rice Lake, led by Bishop James P. Powers, then a pastor, was one of the first parishes to hold an informational reception. Within a few weeks, the parish had made their pledge goal. Tarnowski said this “lighting the fuse” provided momentum among other priests and parishes.

In the first progress report, published as a newsletter for Lent 2014, Bishop Christensen announced the the $16 million pledge goal had been surpassed, with 40 percent of pledges already paid.

The bishop wrote, “It brings me great joy to see the fruits of your stewardship commitment coming to fruition. The Church in Northern Wisconsin is alive with faith and activity that is helping us to remember our past and prepare for our future.”

Almost $3.2 million of the funds raised were sent back to parishes and schools in the form of quarterly rebates for local needs, one of the first being the historic preservation of St. Francis Xavier in Superior.

The current church dates back to 1893; the parish itself was founded in 1854 by the future Bishop Frederic Baraga who has other connections with the Diocese of Superior and is now a candidate for sainthood.

Seeing these projects getting completed – needed church renovations, building maintenance and grounds enhancements – motivated continuing payment on the pledges made.
Monies sought by “Faith in our Future” were above and beyond all regular tithing and contributions to the Diocesan Services Appeal, which funds the diocese’s annual operating budget.

Not counting parishes in Hudson, Superior and Rhinelander, which carried on piggyback campaigns for special needs, the campaign’s performance statistics are significant.

Of the total $17,811,355 pledged, over $16.6 million was collected, with an additional $5.4 million raised by the three piggyback campaigns. Campaign cost, administration and fees were reported as $1.4 million.

In total, 105 percent of the campaign’s overall goal was reached with a participation rate of 31 percent; the overall average gift pledged was $1,847. Thirty parishes reached a 40-percent participation rate, 13 of which were at or exceeded 50 percent. Many of those parishes have 150 or fewer registered families.

The larger parishes that reached 40 percent included: Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobie; St. Anthony of Padua, Park Falls; St. Joseph, Hayward; St. Therese of Lisieux, Phillips; and St. Peter the Fisherman, Eagle River.

Five parishes that had participation rates above 60 percent were: St. Rita, Presque Isle; St. Ann, Cable; St. Isaac Jogues and Companions, Mercer; Our Lady Queen of Peace, Manitowish Waters; and St. John, Clear Lake, with the highest rate of 73 percent.

Endowments for retired priests and seminarians

As part of the capital campaign, two endowment funds were created – one for medical expenses of the diocese’s retired priests, and the St. Augustine Fund for seminarian support. The goal amounts for each of these were established based on annual need and would offset inclusion of those amounts as part of the yearly Diocesan Services Appeal.

“It was an impressive outreach effort with a pitch that was more than money,” Blank said.

“It was ‘let’s solidify the future of the diocese,’” he added, referring specifically to the investments made for seminarian education.

“That’s the dream – that we’ll have seminarians. We have funds. Now let’s pray our diocesan vocations prayers start to give fruits,” Blank affirmed.

He spoke of “the reality of discernment as an investment that will give fruits other than just ordained priests.” Both Blank and Tarnowski acknowledged diocesan priests, in particular those working on the vocations team, are openly explaining and iterating that discernment is a process, and the seminary is a necessary stage and place where priesthood continues to be discerned until the final step of ordination.

Blank noted the recent focus of time, energy and investment early on, “that we’re reaching younger people, and there’s a lot of scrutiny along the formation and discernment process.” For those economist-business people wondering about the return on their investment, he said, “We are being smart about the time spent, the observations, the conversations, the deep formation and spiritual direction and eventually psychological evaluations.”

He said these are all in place “to help us determine if this (young man) is a good ‘investment’… but the more important question is, ‘does this person have a call to be a priest?’”

In the experience of Tarnowski’s daughter, a graduate of St. Thomas University in St. Paul, which is home to the St. John Vianney College Seminary and St. Paul Seminary, the young men who were in seminary because they wanted to help people didn’t make it. During her time there, Tarnowski said, “those who said they had a calling, almost to a person, those were the men who went on to get ordained.”

Both men affirmed the investment of time and energy seminarians spend immersed in the seminary environment and studying the faith is likely to pay dividends in ways that are hard to measure or quantify.

Having two daughters of his own and watching youth ministry develop in the diocese, Blank feels “there is a buzz in the diocese in the last couple years that we might not have had or recognized.”

Referring specifically to the St. Andrew dinners that give young men an open opportunity to interact with priests and seminarians, Blank commented, “that pays dividends, because there is awareness out there … When a couple of boys say they are willing to ‘stick their neck out’ and go to a discernment event … others will start to have the courage to pursue discernment without pressure or ‘contracts.’

He agreed that continuing to normalize the discernment process and celebrating the generosity it takes to do so will bear fruit. Blank sees the foundational importance of Catholic schools and faith formation programs as centers of faith in many communities across the diocese.

“There’s not easy formula, but it feels like we’re in a positive trend,” he confirmed.
Together with Tarnowski, he encouraged parishes to continue praying the diocesan vocations prayer every week: “Pray… and maintain hope.”

Recalling a conversation Blank had with current seminarian Dan Tracy, he shared Tracy’s appreciation of prayers for seminarians. He was struck by the young man’s insistence that holy marriages be prayed for also. Paraphrasing, Blank added, “Because holy marriages are what produce children who are brought up in the faith that may consider a religious vocation.”

Further forward motion

The men shared Bishop Powers’ conviction of reminding people this is a sacramental church, “and do our best to make sure it’s a vibrant sacramental church,” Blank summarized. He added his own understanding that “if there are areas where people are just hanging on to the past, going through the motions or maintaining the status quo, that might not work for the Church in the long run.”

“It’s so rewarding for me, the little bit that I’ve been able to get out, to feel the people that are so committed, that are doing their best to encourage others to get involved, to pass the baton, to engage the next generations,” Blank said.

“I feel that there is a very realistic chance that the Church, with the start of a financial investment and bringing people to the table, is going to see the fruits in the next 10 years … a nice steady growth trend in vocations, active parishes, renewed sense of commitment to the Church in whichever way God is calling,” he added.

Tarnowski commented on an initiative that is carrying forward financial stewardship at the conclusion of the capital campaign – its complete title being “Faith in our Future – our Legacy, our Mission.

It is known as the Bishop’s Legacy Circle and has been chartered by 30 participants, kicked off in April of 2018. It has been a vehicle for major donors to continue to give with funds being placed at Bishop Powers’ discretion.

The group will gather with the Bishop in May for Mass, a meal and a chance to talk about the needs of the diocese and specifically of the upcoming year. Tarnowski called it a “shifting gears to keep generosity and momentum going.”

For more information or to contact Tarnowski, visit

Stewardship Day May 20

The 17th Annual Stewardship Day put on by the diocese will take place on Monday, May 20, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Camp St. Croix Center in Hudson. The featured speaker will be Tom Corcoran, bestselling and award-winning author and speaker on parish revitalization and engagement of the faithful. Corcoran is also a member of the “Amazing Parish” consortium. Cost is a $10 donation, which includes lunch and a copy of “Rebuilt.”