The celebration at Ste. Genevieve Parish on Dec. 29 was reminiscent of the climactic scene in the classic Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
With a basket full of money, Uncle Billy enters the Bailey home and tells George Bailey that his wife, Mary, “told a few people you were in trouble and they scattered all over town collecting money. They didn’t ask any questions – just said: ‘If George is in trouble, count on me!’ You never saw anything like it.”
The same could be said of Ste Genevieve as well. In a town of 4,400 souls, the parish community of 1,100 families answered affirmatively — “Count on me!” — in the Dreams Initiative, the capital campaign to erase the parish debt.
It was a smashing success.
In 12 weeks, The Dreams Initiative eclipsed its goal of $900,000 in raising almost $1.1 million toward debt. The drive started on Oct. 7, and had brought in $665,000 by Nov. 9. Father Edward Nemeth, the pastor, announced the campaign’s success after the Vigil Mass on Dec. 29, then joined parishioners for a pizza party at DuBourg Center, the parish banquet hall.
“We just kind of celebrated,” said Father Nemeth, who described the Dreams Initiative as a “sprint of a campaign” both surprising and not surprising him.
“I was confident we could do it, but there’s that little part of you that says, ‘That’s a lot of money to raise in 12 weeks!’” he said, noting that’s where the surprise came in. “I was surprised how quickly we got it done, but I wasn’t surprised that we got it done.”
And that spoke to the sacrificial generosity of parishioners in getting behind the effort.
“It’s completely to the nature of the people here,” he said. “The folks in Ste. Genevieve are very proud of our tradition and heritage, and they’re fiercely loyal to the parish. When you ask them to confront a financial challenge, they’re totally going to respond.”
More than merely erasing the parish debt, their response will enable the parish and its school — K-12 Valle Catholic — to dream without limitations, hence the name of the campaign.
“A parish or school is not much different than our own personal finances,” Father Nemeth said. “When we have debt, owe on credit cards and things, we’re not really free to dream because we’re always just getting by paying the bills. Once you don’t have debt, you can dream without limitations.
“The financial freedom that comes with being debt-free allows us to chase our dreams, to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t, and to reach heights that before we thought were impossible.”
Just 18 months into Father Nemeth’s pastorship, the parish operates with a balanced budget and a debt-free ledger book thanks to parishioners “helping build a strong financial future,” he said.
Remarkably, the Dreams Initiative came on the heels of the parish’s Beyond Sunday campaign of just two years ago.
“Donor fatigue can be a real thing,” Father Nemeth said. “Beyond Sunday spoke to people who are very invested in Catholic education; we’re seeing the fruits of it now benefiting our parish families (at Valle Catholic). This campaign was really driven by the parish and had broad appeal. Everybody could identify with it, and there was a clear vision: ‘We’re eliminating this debt and we’re going to do it fast.’”
“What an amazing ride the last few months have been. Totally exhausting yet rejuvenating to see the faith of the people in our parish and their commitment to securing a strong future for our parish and school. Thanks be to God for the good people who made this campaign a success. … I can’t imagine many places that would raise over $1,000,000 in three months … this place is one of them.”