Annual Catholic Appeal: Origin and Purpose

Dan Bartleson
Director, Communication Services

Born of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Gaudium et spes (Joy and Hope), or the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World begins by stating: “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.”

This postconciliar text, along with the Council’s emphasis on empowering the laity in Christian service, gave rise to many ministries that extend beyond even the richest expressions of Catholic parish life. These ministries and services educate, evangelize, serve and advocate for the poor while engaging the culture by articulating the Gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

After attending the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen (Bishop of Helena 1962-1975) brought the call to broader engagement back from Rome and the faithful of the diocese donated to the first annual Diocesan Development Fund. Among other ministries, the fund helped establish the current mission in Guatemala.

As the impact of ministries continued to grow, the support through an annual appeal expanded as well. By 1973, the annual effort was called the Diocesan Offertory Program and included support for the mission in Guatemala, Carroll College, Cursillo/Journey, religious education efforts, Catholic Charities, Catholic campus ministry, Legendary Lodge, and the Montana Catholic Conference.

Initially, there were no specific funding goals – only a statement of pastoral priorities with attached funding needs. Over time, the approach evolved to track fundraising around parish-specific goals, based on each parish’s income, to fund diocesan ministries and services.

In 2009, Bishop George Leo Thomas (Bishop of Helena 2004-2018) renamed the effort the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA). To avoid substantial fluctuations, Thomas based parish goals on a parish’s three-year income average. Rebates to parishes that donated over their goal – based on participation rates – were first offered in 2016. The first two years saw $63,275 returned to parishes to be used for local initiatives, charities or investments.

The bishop, in broad consultation, sets the pastoral priorities of his diocese and determines the amount of support allocated to related services and ministries. In our diocese, funding allocations are at and currently include funding for 31 ministries, programs and services, as well as the cost of administering the annual effort.   

Glenda Seipp, Director of Stewardship Services for the Diocese of Helena spearheads ACA efforts. She reports that donors to the ACA include 35% of registered households contributing an average gift of $350. Both household participation and average gift amount are on the high end among comparable dioceses in the U.S. and she described donor loyalty as “unsurpassed” with over 99% of pledge donors fulfilling their pledge. Glenda expects to see growth in the number of participating households as “people continue to form relationships with their pastor, bishop and ministries that are close to their hearts.”

The 2019 Annual Catholic Appeal, The Calling to Fullness of Life in Christ, will start in October and include the 57 parishes and 38 missions that constitute our diocese. Funding of $2M is needed to meet the needs of our people in Montana and at our mission in Guatemala.