Asking for contributions is hard but it’s necessary, says pastor

Photo by Carl Peters
Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish, Gibbsboro, needs more meeting space because its preschool and a number of other parish programs continue to grow.

GIBBSBORO — Msgr. Louis A. Marucci, who spent years in diocesan administration, readily talks about the joys of being a parish pastor. He talks about preaching and administering sacraments, the enthusiasm of parish volunteers, and the importance of meeting the needs of young and old. For Mothers Day he wrote in his parish bulletin about helping a woman connect with the son she had given up for adoption 46 years earlier.

“The faith is most fundamentally alive in the parish setting,” he says. “It’s where we gather as a community. It’s where we celebrate the sacraments. It’s where, as Christians, we take the Gospel and put it into practice.”

Not that it’s easy. Or inexpensive.

While the priest talks about Christ being present in Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish, workers have parked their trucks in the parking lot outside of his rectory office, and keep returning to it for tools. In addition to routine maintenance, there was damage to one of the lampposts on the grounds.

The home to dozens of ministries, the parish depends on a pastoral team of more than a dozen paid and volunteer workers, and at any given time people are crisscrossing the area, doing the business of conducting food drives, delivering and picking up children at the pre-school, attending a spiritual gathering and innumerable other activities.

Meanwhile, the concrete in front of the church is in need of repair.

To find a rationale for the Catholic Strong Campaign, then, just think of an individual who uses a wheelchair, walker or cane — or a woman in high heels — maneuvering that concrete, which is bound to get worse over time if it isn’t repaired. And laying concrete, as any homeowner knows, is both difficult and expensive.

The parish has a budget for the operating costs of its ministries and routine maintenance, but not for the capital improvements to the church which have not been addressed since it was built in 1989. And not for the extra space needed because of the growing preschool and the success of the recently established seniors ministry. Last Thanksgiving the served 50 seniors, and many commented they had no place else to spend the holiday.

“When the church was first designed,” Msgr. Marucci explained, “there was a dream to add a fellowship hall to allow for parish social needs, repast after funerals and overflow seating when required, and numerous other purposes.”

The priest, who spent years raising funds as director of the Camden Diocese’s Development Office, suggests that the Catholic Strong Campaign is a burden for priests and their parishioners but necessary for the vitality of the church.

“This is the hardest thing a pastor has to do,” Msgr. Marucci says about asking parishioners for money. “We don’t like to do it, but we have a responsibility. We aren’t asking for ourselves. We are asking for the church. There is a spirituality to giving.”

He refers to the example of a man featured in the Catholic Strong video who uses the phrase “giving back.”

“The campaign does require a sacrifice,” the pastor says. “But we should not be afraid to ask people to build up the church. People want to participate in something bigger than themselves.”

As an experienced fundraiser, the priest does not hesitate to meet with individuals and, if he doesn’t hear back from them, to call them and ask if they have prayerfully considered his request. (An experienced pastor who has made the effort to get to know his parishioners has an advantage over a new pastor, he says. When fundraising, he explains, there are two ways to insult people: asking for too large a donation or asking for too small a donation.)

He also encourages potential generous donors to consult their tax advisor about gifts of real estate, life insurance policies or other non-cash contributions.

Strengthening a parish has wide-ranging effects. Saint Andrew’s is an affluent community but, as Msgr. Marucci noted, you don’t have to travel far to find impoverished areas, and the parish is involved in many social justice activities, from food, clothing and coat drives to a strong prison ministry.

“There are never enough resources for the poor,” Msgr. Marucci said.