The joy of giving

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With the Annual Catholic Appeal and Beyond Sunday capital campaign running simultaneously in late spring, it would have been understandable if either or both fell short of monetary goals.

But this is the Rome of the West.

As usual, Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis opened their hearts, contributed generously and made both smashing successes.

The Annual Catholic Appeal set a record of more than $15.5 million in pledges to help fund archdiocesan ministries and offices on an annual basis. And it did so coinciding with part of the largest campaign in archdiocesan history by far — the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri's $100 million Beyond Sunday campaign, which has raised more than $104 million in pledges to benefit Catholic education and parishes pending final results.

"At a time when much is being asked of our Catholic families, your support is making possible so many good works of charity in our community," Archbishop Robert J Carlson stated in a message to St. Louis Catholics. "Your willingness to respond with generosity to the needs of others is a powerful witness of the love and tenderness of Mary, Our Mother."

The success of ACA against the backdrop of Beyond Sunday is "a very remarkable example of the generosity in the archdiocese, the incredible support pastors give us and the incredible support the volunteers give us," said Brian Niebrugge, the ACA's executive director. "We can never overemphasize the importance of the pastors' support ... and the volunteers — by their sacrifice of time, energy and support beyond monetary sacrifice — become living witnesses to their fellow parishioners about the importance of the appeal, how it is possible to step up and do more and help others to serve more."

Volunteers spearhead ACA committees in every parish, whether men or women serving individually or in groups, or couples serving in tandem. Similar to people receiving ministry and outreach of ACA beneficiaries, volunteers get to say "Thank you" for donors' generous gifts.

In doing so, "They put themselves in the position of a humble servant," Niebrugge said. "I find that remarkable."

ACA chair Madeleine Appelbaum praised "the remarkable leadership of our pastors, parish chairs and dedicated volunteers" to help ensure "that the Church, through the Annual Catholic Appeal, can gather the resources needed to serve others."

Among stellar efforts of volunteer chairs this year, two stand out: the husband and wife team of Pat and Kathy O'Donnell of St. Matthias Parish in Lemay; and Deacon Dick Renard, who soldiered on at St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood after the death of his wife, Kay.

Parish fixtures

The O'Donnells know firsthand about the impact of the ACA. After the death of their daughter Bridget in an automobile accident 25 years ago, Catholic Charities of St. Louis provided grief counselors, first in the rectory basement at Most Precious Blood Parish in Mehlville on the day of the funeral and later at the O'Donnell home. About 50 of Bridget's friends and classmates from Most Precious Blood School and from Notre Dame High School took advantage of three counseling sessions in all.

"It was really good for them," said Kathy O'Donnell, 68, who remains connected to Bridget's friends via social media. "I feel like the kids got a lot of benefit from it, the very same way a lot of people benefit from the ACA.

"It reaches out to so many types of people, people who really need it. The ACA is so important for so many people who've been helped through it."

The O'Donnells also hear annually from the newest recipient of the Bridget O'Donnell Scholarship, which was the first named scholarship at Notre Dame. The scholarship recognized Bridget's ambition to be a teacher.

"Every year somebody gets the scholarship, and we get a nice letter telling about their lives and what the scholarship means to them," Kathy O'Donnell said. "I feel Bridget is still reaching out to a lot of people."

Just like her parents, who are mainstays at the parish. Kathy plays the organ at every Mass, having started playing at Mass 58 years ago as a 10-year-old at Most Precious Blood. Pat attends each Mass with her, serving as a one-man hospitality crew to welcome parishioners before Mass and bid them farewell after.

Such sociability comes in handy in the ACA, whether he's handing out pledge cards in the early stages of the appeal or making phone calls and home visits in the final stages. He started making such door-to-door visits as a teenager helping his father in the appeal.

"He took one side of the street and I took the other," said Pat O'Donnell, 72, whose father's only advice was to not tarry if a homeowner couldn't contribute. There were more homes to visit.

The O'Donnells have chaired ACA for 13 years at St. Mathias. They also helped out with the Beyond Sunday campaign in 2015, when St. Matthias was in the first group of parishes.

"We're very fortunate to live in a parish that's a very giving parish," Pat O'Donnell said.

A deacon's partner

At St. Peter in Kirkwood, Deacon Renard has seen the benefits of the ACA, not by personal experience but by visits to agencies and offices over the years.

"I really saw at the grassroots level how the ACA benefits so many agencies and meets so many needs," he said. "The ACA serves the poorest of the poor, supports pro-life activities, archdiocesan schools, the diaconate and seminary ... such a broad spectrum of needs. It really struck a note with me, our call to respond to the Corporal Works of Mercy."

"The ACA is a way to contribute without writing 50 checks. Who can deny the efficiency of the ACA? One check or pledge helps so many people; the needs are never ending."

Renard, 71, has led the appeal at St. Peter since 2005, with a year off when he and his wife went to Augusta, Ga., after their daughter Katie and her husband adopted their eighth child. He continued this year despite the death of his beloved wife, Kay, on Feb. 21. She died of complications after eight years with Alzheimer's disease.

Under those circumstance, no one would have thought less of him if he wanted to step back from ACA, take a year off and grieve. He never considered it.

"I didn't want to drop it," he said. "I wasn't going to do that. I felt responsible for it. After her natural death and beautiful beautiful celebration of her life at St Peter Church, I just got back into it ... to honor Kay."

Kay was a constant companion at ACA events, whether dinners, agency visits or parish outreach. With what Deacon Renard called her "Irish spirit," she connected with Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, who wrote him a touching letter after he made a donation in her name.

"I'll always treasure it," Deacon Renard said.

She also accompanied him throughout his diaconate formation and ministry, going with him to liturgical events, funerals, baptisms and more.

"She supported me, encouraged me and was always by my side," said Deacon Renard, describing his wife of 48 years. "I'm so blessed. She was my wife, best friend, spiritual adviser and partner. The love of my life."

And a fervent ACA supporter.

"She believed in the ACA," he said. "I continue in her spirit, and I have every intention to keep going." 

 

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