Bishop Peter Christensen’s oratorical skills have improved since college.
Speaking at more than 80 receptions for the Faith in Our Future capital campaign was a rigorous test of the Diocese of Superior’s chief shepherd, who once received a D in public speaking.
He saw it as an opportunity.
“I only wish I could have attended all receptions held throughout the diocese, but I knew early on that it wouldn’t be possible,” he said. “Guidance in Giving, the company who conducted our campaign, said that in their 25-year history, no bishop had ever attended more.”
Launched in 2013, the $16 million Faith in Our Future campaign was designed to ensure the diocese could afford to educate seminarians, care for aging priests, support its schools and meet other financial obligations.
All of the bishop’s speeches were not for naught. His office announced last month the campaign had met — and exceeded — its goal. More than $16.2 million has been pledged to date.
“Fifty-thousand miles, a few extra pounds and one sorry and fatally injured deer later, I’m kind of missing the active phase of attending receptions,” the bishop admitted. “But rest assured, in my lifetime here, God willing, there will be no more capital campaigns in the Diocese of Superior.”
Guidance in Giving
Guidance in Giving, a New York- and Florida-based company whose consultants specialize in Catholic stewardship, was entrusted to manage Faith in Our Future.
Thomas Dorsz, executive director of the campaign, is originally from Maryland, but he’s worked in North Carolina, Michigan, Montana and other states. After his year in Superior came to a close in December, Dorsz headed home to Raleigh, N.C.
Other Guidance in Giving employees are spending 2014 in California.
“All of us pretty much do that — jump from place to place,” he said.
Dorsz earned his bachelor’s degree at Valley City State University in Valley City, N.D., so he knows a lot of North Dakotans and Minnesotans. He asked to lead the team in Superior because he likes the area, the size of the diocese and the people, whom he describes as friendly, respectful, polite and forthright.
The Guidance in Giving team is sometimes lost in the shuffle in larger dioceses, he said. “Here, we’ve gotten to know everyone in the building. We’ve gotten to know the pastors,” Dorsz said.
Committee members in Woodruff impressed him with their dedication to the campaign. The women at St. Francis, Superior, spoiled him with good food and kindness, and he particularly enjoyed working with Fr. James Kinney, pastor of St. Pius X, Solon Springs; St. Anthony of Padua, Gordon; and St. Mary, Minong.
“He has a very outgoing personality … and he’s a good leader,” Dorsz said of Fr. Kinney.
All three of his parishes met their campaign goals, he added. In Dorsz’s experience, strong parish leadership is a major asset in diocesan appeals.
Fr. Shanthi Reddy Mandapati is pastor of St. Anthony in Highbridge, a parish that gave one of the highest percentages of a goal without conducting a concurrent campaign — 186 percent — and achieved a 51-percent participation rate.
Fr. Mandapati said all of the parishes in his cluster — churches in Mellen, Glidden, Sanborn and Highbridge — were actively involved in the campaign.
“It was very good,” said Fr. Mandapati. “Many people attended the reception meetings.”
Smaller parishes often don’t have the resources available in larger cities, so “it’s more of a sacrifice for the people,” Dorsz commented.
Other parishes far exceeding their goals included St. Peter in Dauby; St. Joseph, La Pointe; and St. Joseph, Barron.
The success of Faith in Our Future and all diocesan campaigns relies on the generosity of the diocesan community. Last December, Fr. Aaron Devett, Woodruff, was so touched by a child’s contribution, he sent her letter to Bishop Christensen.
“Dear Bishop Peter Christensen,” wrote Kiera Rotar, “I am 8 years old. I received my First Communion last spring. My family got me lots of gifts. Most of it was money. Some of it I want to give to the diocese. It’s about $50. I’m very happy to donate this money because other people might need it.”
Kiera, now in fourth grade, lives in Woodruff with her parents, Scott and Genea Rotar, and brother, Leo.
Asked why she decided to donate her gift money, Kiera responded, “I really don’t know.”
She recalls Fr. Aaron was talking about the need to support retired priests and Catholic schools, and she wanted to help.
Asked whether her parents were proud of her, she whispered the question to them.
Yes, they are, she said.
The annual Diocesan Services Appeal funds everyday support services for parishes, according to Steve Tarnowski, director of stewardship and development for the Diocese of Superior. Throughout the year, clergy, secretaries, council members and others rely on the diocese for assistance with education programs, outreach, finances, insurance, charity, grant applications, worship and a range of other needs.
The Faith in Our Future capital campaign is different for a couple of reasons, he explained. First, the campaign sought funding for specific responsibilities — caring for retired priests and educating seminarians — as well as to support parishes themselves.
Secondly, Faith in Our Future generated rebate money for parishes that gave above and beyond their appeal goals.
“It’s been fruitful in that respect,” Tarnowski added. “If they go over their appeal, even if it’s only a buck, they’re getting some back.”
In June, the diocese sent out $111,736.67 in rebates to 18 parishes. More than 50 churches received refunds totaling $179.505.46 in November. The next round of rebates will be mailed around St. Valentine’s Day; Herald staff will report on how parishes are using their rebates in a future issue.
As the campaign concludes, Bishop Christensen is reflecting on lessons learned.
“Although the purpose of our campaign was to help strengthen the financial needs of our diocese, as well as each of our individual parishes, I personally found the effort of traveling to our many parishes a wonderful witness of the healthy faith and sense of lived community within,” he said.
“Without exception, I was impressed with the number of people who took time out of their busy schedules to attend their own parish reception,” he continued. “I also remain so grateful for the leadership teams who helped to make these events such a success. Even the prepared food gave witness to a strong level of commitment to the project, while adding a positive experience to those willing to involve themselves in truly the largest and most successful campaign in the history of the Diocese of Superior.
“Thank you to all who participated in this capital campaign,” he added. “It was indeed a job well done! Now, let’s journey on by being faithful to completing the pledges we’ve made as we continue to live on in the joy and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”