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A young girl named Alicia joked with caseworker Silvia Martinez from St. Francis Community Services in 2015. St. Francis and the other federated agencies of Catholic Charities of St. Louis are supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal.
A young girl named Alicia joked with caseworker Silvia Martinez from St. Francis Community Services in 2015. St. Francis and the other federated agencies of Catholic Charities of St. Louis are supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Leadership, direction of Annual Catholic Appeal was key

Archbishop Carlson saw Appeal as a spiritual mission, response to needs

By the close of the 2020 Annual Catholic Appeal, the total raised during the past 11 years could reach $170 million. It’s a testament to Archbishop Robert J. Carlson’s leadership and his desire to help people living in poverty and fund pro-life and social justice issues, Catholic education and more.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson talked with Greg Meier, left, and his son, Michael Meier, both of St. Bernadette Parish in Lemay, during the Annual Catholic Appeal dinner at The Cedars at St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral in 2011.
Photo Credits: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Appeal has had steadily rising support. The 2019 Annual Catholic Appeal raised more than $15.3 million in pledges and gifts, with estate gifts and matching gifts adding another $400,000. The 2009 campaign raised $12.3 million.

The success of the Appeal was driven by Archbishop Carlson’s leadership of the archdiocese as a whole, not just on each year’s campaign, said Brian Niebrugge, executive director of stewardship and the Annual Catholic Appeal of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “It was his ability to bring us as a local Church all together as an archdiocese by responding proactively to issues and by opening his door to so many people and being present to them as their bishop, as their pastor,” Niebrugge said.

The archbishop has insisted on the Appeal being a spiritual mission, bringing people together to serve those in need, Catholic or not, and not just an administrative task or fundraising effort, Niebrugge said.

Archbishop Carlson has an open-handed generosity for those who need help with the money that’s raised, Niebrugge said. “He doesn’t have any sense of this being his money. He sees this as something entrusted to him to serve the Church, so he’s always looking for ways to get it out to where it’s most needed.”

Anthony D’Agostino, former executive director of the Criminal Justice Ministry who now leads St. Patrick Center, said few funders want to support an organization that serves criminals. “One of the biggest exceptions is the archdiocese,” D’Agostino said. “Through the ACA, the archdiocese has always funded CJM’s mission to serve those impacted by incarceration. In fact, when CJM lost state funding a few years ago, Archbishop Carlson told me, ‘We will always support your work because it is vital in our community. The need is there and your work must continue.’ Not only did the ACA provide some extra funding that year, the archbishop supported us through his charity fund and personally helped us fundraise at our annual gala. Without the archbishop and the ACA, CJM would not exist.”

Natalie Villmer of the Rural Parish Workers of Christ the King said Archbishop Carlson is a “true friend and supporter of our ministry. We are grateful for his ongoing interest and prayers.”

The Appeal has awarded grants to the Rural Parish Workers ever since its beginning for their work in northern Washington County. The Rural Parish Workers meet basic needs of food, clothing, rent, electric bills, furniture, gas for transportation and propane and assist people with medical rand spiritual needs. The funds also help with a self-help program, which gives work to individuals who support their families. “Without the funds from the Appeal our work would be greatly hindered,” Villmer said.

Archbishop Carlson played a significant role in the ministry by approving these grants plus others for the food pantry and other extra funds, Villmer said. He also was instrumental in seeing that the Rural Parish Health Clinic began.

In promoting the Appeal, Archbishop Carlson has cited the need to unite to help others. Niebrugge said that, “With one heart, as the Archdiocese of St. Louis, we pray for a charitable response to help the less fortunate, those in material and spiritual need, and the forgotten.”

The archbishop especially enjoyed the Annual Catholic Appeal Council meetings, getting to know people from parishes across the archdiocese, Niebrugge said.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson announced the 2015 Annual Catholic Appeal during a fundraising dinner at St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis. Over the past 10 years under Archbishop Carlson, the Annual Catholic Appeal has received more than $145 million in pledges.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

Because of Archbishop Carlson’s engagement with the Appeal, it has supported the projects most important to him. Most recently that included the Rural Parish Clinic, a health care outreach that is an important part of the archdiocese’s mission. “Now, that project is taking care of the poor in rural Missouri in a way that never happened before,” Niebrugge said.

Similarly, the ACA funds Our Lady of Guadalupe Convent, a ministry that’s a prayerful support to those who are working to make abortion unthinkable in St. Louis. The convent is across the street from Planned Parenthood in the Central West End of St. Louis. “The archbishop had a vision to see abortion in its true light, in that it’s a spiritual battle before it’s a political battle,” Niebrugge said.

Since the convent came to St. Louis to the “darkest corner in the archdiocese, we’ve made real progress on changing minds and hearts and combatting the evil of abortion,” Niebrugge said. “It goes back to that vision that he has of taking care of the most important things first, which is prayer and spirituality, and turning to the resources that God gives us to provide us with the best hope, which is prayer and the Eucharist. Let’s rely on Him. Let’s do our work certainly, work hard and do everything we can humanly speaking, but let’s rely on prayer.”

Concerning the employees of the archdiocese, the archbishop stressed the importance of their families and providing mechanisms to help them, Niebrugge added. “He wants people to take care of their families and then they’ll be more able to do a great job and be happy in their work here.”

Niebrugge gave an example of the birth of his fifth child, who was born on the day of the ACA kickoff. The baby was stressed after birth, and Archbishop Carlson’s prayers and support meant the world to Niebrugge. The baby overcame the difficulties in good health, what doctors called a surprisingly quick turnaround, Niebrugge said.

A Message of Hope

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson had a message earlier this year about serving people in a time of need and the impact of the Annual Catholic Appeal:

“Why do we seek out the homeless, feed the hungry, serve families and protect the unborn? Why do we provide clinics, counseling and food pantries? Why do we give tuition help and teacher training for schools? Some of those we serve are Catholic; many are not. We do it because we are Catholic. As Catholics, God has given us this opportunity to come together and show His strength. Together we bring a message of hope, courage and faith. Do not be afraid!”

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