Alfredo Carvajal, Kirsten Bublitz, Tony Gutiérez, Billy Hardiman and Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN

The Diocese of Phoenix hit a growth spurt leading up to its 50th anniversary marked Dec. 2, 2019.

It was a planned and unusually long growth spurt that ultimately hit every parish and mission in the diocese. The growth looked different at each place of worship but was uniformly charted through the “Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” campaign.

The eight-part, $100 million campaign was a vision of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s to better equip the diocese’s church structures and ministries themselves, as well as the people within them to be better vehicles of evangelization “enthusiastic in our faith,” as the campaign prayer went. The phased campaign invited the area’s 1.2 million Catholics to support it since its formal kickoff surrounding the 2017 feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which also marked the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s apostolic visit to Phoenix. He was among four saints invoked throughout the campaign, the others being St. Teresa of Calcutta — who visited the diocese in 1989, St. Junípero Serra and Servant of God Eusebio “Padre” Kino, considered the “Apostle of Arizona.”

Like these missionary disciples, Catholics worldwide — including everyone living in the Diocese of Phoenix — are witnesses to Jesus “not only to our community, but to our brothers and sisters of tomorrow,” Bishop Olmsted said. “We are tasked by God, as every generation is, to be good stewards of the gifts that God has given us for both the present and the future.”

Campaign leaders at the parish worked in partnership with the diocesan Office of Mission Advancement to oversee donation and disbursement of those gifts. It was an all-hands-on-deck approach that brought the campaign to each parish and mission, six months at a time, since 2017.

The “Together” effort wrapped up in December with more than 19,000 pledges and $110 million in pledge commitments. One third of funds will provide — or have already begun to provide — direct parish support to each parish and mission.

Leaders there discerned alongside Mission Advancement staff how best to apply funds. The result has been parish improvements, church beautification, Catholics more willing to get involved in parish life and parishioners better engaging one another.

Parish impact

Parishioners at Immaculate Conception in Cottonwood have very tangible results of their campaign effort: increased staff, a minor but vital church improvement and more active adult Catholics. Their share of campaign funds, in part, opened a local convent in late 2018 for three Eucharistic Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Los Angeles.

Thirty-five cents of every dollar given to the campaign will be returned to the donor’s parish in order to uniquely minister to the needs of that community.

One is a sacristan, another oversees parish religious education and some religion classes at Immaculate Conception School, while a third serves at St. John Vianney in Sedona. Their command of the Spanish language has enlivened the parish’s Hispanic population in terms of involvement. Sr. Bernadette de la Santa Faz, head of the sisters locally and director of faith formation, drew even greater adult participation by offering separate faith formation opportunities at the same time as their children.

The campaign also funded installation of an altar rail completed by last September. Fr. David Kelash, pastor, said it enhances the beauty of the sanctuary and gives a better focus of the sacredness of the altar.

“It draws people up into prayer,” Fr. Kelash said. That includes visitors who use the church throughout the day. One bride asked to use it as a communion rail.

The campaign saw success in plenty other places too, including Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, which includes Prince of Peace Church, both in Sun City West. The two churches will see upgraded tiling in their respective halls and new church lighting. One larger change will be the conversion of the larger sacristy at Our Lady of Lourdes into a handicapped accessible chapel after Easter.

An upgraded kitchen and resurfaced parking lot is also on the horizon. All of these projects were a result of just 20 percent of the parish pledging support. Still, the parish exceeded its financial goal — one set based on tithing trends. Those who did support it saw value in the parish and diocesan efforts “Together Let Us Go Forth” funded.

“The bishop’s campaign was about cementing the faith in the diocese on a long-term basis,” explained Ron Goergen, cabinet chair at Our Lady of Lourdes. Besides parish support, it raised money for and awareness of seminarian support, Newman Centers, Catholic education — school development, St. John Paul II High School and tuition — the Francis Mercy Fund and ministry support via the annual diocesan Charity and Development Appeal.

It did take some explaining, particularly the difference between CDA and the “Together” effort, and that was something the parish cabinet and pastor Fr. David Ostler committed to. The six-member cabinet at Our Lady of Lourdes visited an estimated 150 homes to explain the campaign and met with more than 200 people at a formal session with the bishop and Mission Advancement staff. Fr. Ostler made almost 70 home visits himself alongside a cabinet member.

“His commitment to the program and set aside time went a very, very long way to getting parishioners behind the program,” Goergen said. Parishioners pledged some $100,000 beyond the published goal.

As one of four co-chairs at the diocesan level, Omar and Carola Alvarez saw over and over again how parishes exceeded their goal. “Seeing the way everyone came all together to support this mission was very impactful. … You could see how everyone believed in the campaign, how much we all knew this was needed and it’s a gift to see the beauty of evangelization and go forth as missionary disciples of Christ,” they said.

Diocesan efforts

Among the campaign’s handful of diocesan efforts, the Newman Centers’ $10 million portion came up quite a bit in conversation. They’re places on college campuses to remain active in the faith, come to know the faith more deeply or experience it for the first time, and have a sense of “home.”

“There is a deep need on campus today to support our children because our culture is actively trying to destroy belief in God and our need for relationship with Him,” said diocesan co-chairs Rick and Shellie Andreen, who have at least three-fourths of their children college-age or just older. “Newman Centers take that challenge straight on with story after story of lives saved.”

Learn more about the specific needs at each of the three Newman Centers serving Catholics on college campuses within the diocese and see related videos:

The Holy Spirit Newman Center at Grand Canyon University is in constant growth mode at some 25 percent each year. A second Sunday Mass was added last fall to better accommodate an overflowing chapel. Every Mass also has a live feed in the nearby living room.

“College can be a difficult thing. Students are facing homesickness, stress and their first time being independent, both in daily living and in their own faith,” explained Marian Escio, a GCU alumna and campus missionary. “Newman Centers provide a place for students to come together and face life together. In a time where students are away from their families, the Newman Center becomes their family. It not only keeps students connected to the sacraments and their Catholic Faith, but also just provides a safe space for students to walk in and experience home.”

Funding from the “Together Let Us Go Forth” campaign will offer at least three other types of “homes” too. It’s all housed under the Francis Mercy Fund component of the campaign. Some $3 million will help open Regina Cleri, the first priest retirement home in the Diocese of Phoenix.

The fund will serve the poor, marginalized and elderly, including retired priests.

Another $2 million committed to helping the Society of St. Vincent de Paul expand its campus, including moving Ozanam Manor — a shelter for older adults and adults with disabilities — onto SVdP’s main campus. Catholic Charities Community Services will receive $1 million to twice replicate Juniper House, a transitional home in Flagstaff for women after incarceration. Current plans are for Williams and Prescott.

While some hard numbers float about regarding “Together Let Us Go Forth” project costs, donors, pledge total and the like, the campaign’s true impact on today’s Catholics and future parishioners not even born or even part of the Church yet, won’t be so measurable. Many of its leaders and average participants are sure of one thing: greater diocesan unity. It’s seen in the marriages, births and other life milestones campaign staff and parish cabinet members shared with each other.

Matt and Meredith McGuire, one of the diocesan co-chair couples, enjoyed update meetings where they heard how the campaign impacted specific parishes, “especially those that thought they would never achieve their goals. The successful stories of these parishes not only meeting their goals, but then surpassing them — not just financially, but seeing their home parish band together and grow in discipleship — were so impactful.”

Cande de Leon, executive director of the Office of Mission Advancement, agreed. The campaign from the get-go, was about evangelization and discipleship. “We have seen real conversion in the lives of people and a deepening of their relationship with Jesus.”