From soup kitchens to impoverished or expectant mothers, to people in danger of homelessness, to job training, to numerous social justice causes and Catholic Charities, to pro-life issues, to Catholic education, the seminary and more, the Annual Catholic Appeal supports the Catholic Church’s many ministries in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
This year, the ACA raised almost $15.5 million from pledges and gifts for the immediate needs of those ministries. Including estate gifts and anticipated matching gifts, the total exceeds $16 million. The parish appeal topped its goal of $14.2 million by more than $400,000 with $14.6 million in pledges.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson expressed thanks to Catholic St. Louisans for making “works of charity possible across the Archdiocese of St. Louis and beyond … (ensuring) that the story of the Church in our archdiocese is one of love and mercy.”
Likewise, ACA executive director Brian Niebrugge praised the faithful’s commitment to the Church’s charitable works.
“The people of the archdiocese continue to be generous with the mission of the Church,” he said. “Now more than ever, we need to support the good works of the Church. The Appeal helps people to see Christ in the Catholic Church in a way that makes sense to people, simply by helping those in most need. They understand helping people.”
Contributions came from all corners of the archdiocese.
“Over 47,000 households contributed to the Appeal,” Niebrugge said. “People and families from many different walks of life, many different economic, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds — urban, suburban, small town, and rural — they all contribute to this one mission.”
According to ACA figures, 137 parishes exceeded fund-raising goals, including 100 that exceeded challenge goals. In addition, 108 parishes achieved their goals for new donors and 68 parishes improved participation.
“It’s always striking to me how people in parishes continue to step up,” Niebrugge said. “It’s amazing and beautiful.”
Appeal chair Tom Heeger praised the generosity of St. Louisans, the program’s parish chairs and many volunteers “for doing all the heavy lifting,” and the ACA office, which is filled with “dedicated, top-shelf people.”
“This is well-run; it’s pretty impressive,” he said, noting that planning for future Appeals already has begun. Though the ACA runs every year in late spring and summer, it’s actually a year-round effort. Since September of 2017, Heeger, a parishioner at St. Gerard Majella in Kirkwood, oversaw the ACA Council of 24 members, which is composed of Archbishop Carlson, Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso, Bishop Emeritus Robert J. Hermann, Vicar General Msgr. Dennis R. Stehle, clergy and laity.
The year-long effort allowed Heeger to experience Acts 20:35: “In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
“I got a lot more than I gave,” Heeger said, adding, simply, “It’s a wonderful thing.”
Co-chairs lead success at Sts. Teresa and Bridget
BY JOSEPH KENNY | twitter: @josephkenny2
Gus Lewis returned to his childhood parish, Sts. Teresa and Bridget, in 2007 after not being part of a parish for a while. The people he met “were so friendly, and they welcomed me back into the parish,” Lewis recalled.
Soon after he began attending Mass at the church in north St. Louis again, parishioners invited him to be a part of the ministries of the parish. He told them he wanted to wait. “I was reluctant. I didn’t think I had anything to offer,” he said.
He started praying, asking the Holy Spirit to guide him. That led to a volunteer role as a lector, then the liturgy committee, Angel Dusters (cleaning the interior of the church), Jonah prayer chain and more. “My life has changed. I’m so much happier now. I really enjoy working with the Church and the people,” Lewis said.
Lewis and his sister-in-law, Thelma Lewis, were co-chairs of the Annual Catholic Appeal this year at the parish. St. Teresa and Bridget’s goal was $7,260, and parishioners pledged $9,592. The parishioners are generous “when they are asked to step up to the plate,” he said, adding that they also were generous during the Beyond Sunday campaign.
Sts. Teresa and Bridget has 300 registered parish households and a wide variety of ministries such as being part of the Winter Outreach program for people who are homeless during extreme temperatures and threatening weather. It also has a youth ministry, adult Gospel choir, Sunday religion classes for children and much more. The parish works in partnership with more than a half-dozen community organizations.
There’s a need for funds to be used throughout the archdiocese, Gus Lewis tells parishioners. Funds from the appeal, for example, support the lay formation program that he attends. Some funds also return to Sts. Teresa and Bridget for outstanding needs, he reminds parishioners.
According to Thelma Lewis, pastor Father Tim Cook encourages people to be involved in ministries and to contribute to the ACA. “We all have benefited from the appeal, and our parishioners realize that,” Thelma Lewis said. “They tend to be very generous.”
The Annual Catholic Appeal funds have helped in maintaining the church, she noted. The parish has received parish viability grants and parish emergency fund grants from the appeal. For example, emergency grants were used to assist with unanticipated costs in removing a steam pipe during construction of a ramp for people with disabilities and for the replacement of an air-conditioning unit.
Lifelong volunteer has helped annual campaigns since the 1950s
BY DAVE LUECKING | [email protected] | twitter: @legacyCatholic
In the nascent days of what would become the Annual Catholic Appeal, volunteers went door-to-door in their
parishes. The old school up-close-and-personal approach didn’t resonate with everyone, though.
“Everybody knew we were out in the field,” said Harry Wappelhorst, a volunteer since 1954 and still a volunteer making phone calls at 90 years young. “I knocked on the door at one house and I saw a hand behind the shade for someone to look out …”
The punchline: “No one answered the door,” he said, with a hearty laugh.
Still, Wappelhorst kept knocking on doors and listening to stories of St. Pius X parishioners.
“If someone wanted to talk to me, I listened,” he said, recalling that at one house he listened to a man expressing disappointment about a parish issue. The man surprised him at the end, though. “He said, ‘OK, I’ll give you 50 bucks.’ If I hadn’t listened, I don’t think he’d have given anything.”
Wappelhorst was among the appeal’s earliest volunteers and, with the exception of stints living in the Chicago and Houston areas for work, he’s been a mainstay helping the archdiocese’s appeal ever since.
“It makes you feel worthwhile doing something like this,” he said recently at his lakeside home in Innsbrook. “I always felt it was important. You feel part of the parish.”
He and his wife, Patricia, (who died in 2016) retired to Innsbrook in 1994, and with plenty of free time, Harry took the reins as appeal chairman at Holy Rosary Parish in Warrenton. He spent 20 years in the role and relished meeting fellow parishioners and sharing lively banter at the pledge-card table.
“Just silly things, making it fun,” he said. “If you do this right and don’t get all wrapped up in it, you can have a lot of fun with it. We were always laughing and cutting up. That was my attitude — make it fun.”
The fun approach helped contributions grow by about 333 percent to better than $50,000 before he handed it off a few years ago. This year, under co-chairs Lori Eggering and Jessica Neff, Holy Rosary raised $54,289 to exceed its challenge goal, with a participation rate of 61.6 percent. Wappelhorst called the results “spectacular.”
“People here are very generous; it’s a very generous parish,” he said.
Teacher experiences appeal’s impact in education, deacon formation
BY DAVE LUECKING | [email protected] | twitter: @legacyCatholic
Bob Hennekes experiences the impact of the Annual Catholic Appeal on a daily basis, and God-willing — as future clergy say — he’ll also experience it for the rest of his life.
A teacher at St. Dominic High School, he’s in formation in the permanent diaconate, among 23 men in the class of 2022. Both St. Dominic and the diaconate are supported by the ACA, which in turn is supported by the St. Louis faithful.
“ACA helps fund in a big way our school at St. Dominic, and basically helps parents give their children the gift of a Catholic education, with somebody who loves God in front of them in every classroom,” Hennekes said during his free period on a recent day at St. Dominic. He added that ACA funding “also makes it possible to have deacons.”
A native St. Louisan, Hennekes, 59, grew up in New Jersey and California, received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of California-Davis in 1981, worked in the oil industry and traveled the world. He returned to the St. Louis area to live with his elderly father five years ago, started teaching at St. Dominic and entered the diaconate in 2017.
As a teacher, Hennekes teaches more than the subject at hand. “I don’t just teach math, engineering, physics and chemistry — I teach who Jesus Christ is; I happen to hit on the other subjects every once in a while,” he said.
Hennekes wants students to thank their parents for their Catholic education, giving them a homework assignment to do just that.
“They say, ‘You’re kidding me?’” he said. “I say, ‘Your parents could have a Mercedes or a Beemer, or get a lake house or one powerful jet boat, but instead they sacrifice to send you to St. Dominic for four years. They’re acting very, very unselfish.’ And we at Dominic feel the responsibility to absolutely minimize the (tuition) costs. Then, ACA comes in and give us funds to help keep the tuition costs down (because) the more kids who come from Catholic schools the better they’re able to serve the Lord.”
The ACA also minimizes costs for men in formation for the diaconate.
“They want (the diaconate) to not be a financial burden,” Hennekes said. “They just want to find folks who love God. … We’re getting a wonderful education so we can bring Christ to other people.”
Newman Centers have grown with appeal support
BY DAVE LUECKING | [email protected] | twitter: @legacyCatholic
A recent study by St. Mary Press reports sobering data about young adults in the Catholic Church: They tend to leave the faith by the age of 13.
However, in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Catholic Student Center at Washington University in St. Louis appears to be “bucking the trend of kids leaving the Church,” CSC director Father Gary Braun said.
“We’re holding our own at about 1,200 registered students,” he said, adding that CSC has been active in outreach “because of attrition rate for students coming to college. We’re doing a lot more to go where students are and finding them, reconnecting them with the Church; I think that’s why we’re holding our own.”
The CSC team — director of ministry Troy Woytek, campus ministers Sean O’Rourke, Kristy Chan, Jim Dryden and Bryan Beams and Father Braun, himself — literally meets students where they are, on the Hilltop campus.
“We have to get out there more than ever because the attrition before college is so high,” Father Braun said.
The same holds true for other college campuses in the St. Louis area at which Newman Centers are thriving. Lindenwood University’s Newman Center recently added its own chapel from humble beginnings in an old classroom. The University of Missouri-St. Louis’s Newman Center also has grown, among others.
CSC has helped make this so, with support from the ACA since Father Braun’s arrival in 1991.
“When I came, we had 42 students and were totally dependent on the ACA,” he said. “It wasn’t a big budget. We were small potatoes in those days, but then Archbishop (John L. May) made me promise to become less reliant on the ACA. We did and cut it way down.”
Then, the Catholic Student Center used ACA contributions to fund Newman Centers at area colleges and community colleges, which now receive direct appeal support. The appeal also helped CSC take its fund-raising to the next level.
“Over years, they gave us seed money to do development work,” Father Braun said, noting that it helped CSC grow in scope and reach since the early ’90s. “It all blossomed from the the path the ACA gave us to do development work.
“They gave us a seed so we could grow a tree. By the grace of God, and people’s kindness and generosity, it’s been really exciting to see.”