ARCHDIOCESE OF MILWAUKEE – As director of the Catholic Stewardship Appeal, Rob Bohlmann oversees three campaign mailings annually. The first, which goes to all 230,000 households in the archdiocese, occurs as the campaign begins in February. The second, in April, is a follow-up invitation to those who did not make a contribution.

But it’s the third mailing of 2008, in mid-September, to those who hadn’t responded and to those who had responded but from whom a second gift was being sought, that generated a surprise. Contributions began to increase. By mid-December, due to “a large number of gifts,” according to Bohlmann, the CSA had exceeded its goal of $7.65 million.

And then the unexpected arrived in the mail – a gift of $100,000.

“We did not solicit that gift. It just came in to us. There was no letter accompanying it. It simply came in made out to ‘Catholic Stewardship Appeal,’” Bohlmann said.

Raising new generation of leaders

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan described the donation as “a wonderful part of the harvest of the Faith in Our Future Capital Campaign.”

“A new generation of leaders is being raised up,” the archbishop said. “As I sign thank you notes for the Faith in Our Future campaign, I’m saying, ‘I haven’t seen this name before. Where did they come from? I haven’t noticed them in the Catholic Stewardship Appeal.’ These are new folks. They’re rising up. We’re creating a whole new generation of leaders and benefactors of the church.”

Both the archbishop and Bohlmann noted that surpassing the goal for the eighth consecutive year, this time by nearly $216,000, was remarkable given the economic challenges people are facing.

“The recession, they tell us, began last August, and in spite of that, and people being really stretched financially, they dug deeper and were sacrificially generous to the archdiocese,” Archbishop Dolan said. “That is a tremendous credit to the Catholic people of southeastern Wisconsin. That is why the elation is hiked up this year.”

While the economy offered the CSA a challenge, so did the first two waves of the archdiocese’s $105 million Faith in Our Future Capital Campaign to support Catholic education and formation. Bohlmann was concerned that potential donors would support either the CSA or the capital campaign, but not both.

“Only a handful of people did that (support one or the other),” he said.

Archbishop Dolan also thought the capital campaign would negate the CSA’s ability to attract donors.

“If that was the case, then I wondered what good would the capital campaign be because we were sort of robbing Peter to pay Paul, but that didn’t happen,” the archbishop said.

The archdiocese’s capital campaign consultants, O’Meara, Ferguson, Whelan and Conway, assured the archbishop that not only would the CSA benefit from the capital campaign, but so would the parishes.

“Our consultants told us, ‘This is about stewardship, so the people are going to know this is about the needs of God’s people. So they’re going to know that the life of the church has to continue and that the capital campaign is heroic, extraordinary and above and beyond what we naturally do,’” Archbishop Dolan said. “And they were right.”

Consistent support from Campanile members

One group that has consistently supported the CSA, and that did so in 2008, was the Campanile Society. At that level, donors contribute a minimum of $1,000 to the CSA annually.

“They continued at the same level or even increased their gifts to the appeal, plus they gave generous and substantial gifts to the Faith in Our Future campaign,” Bohlmann said. “In that group, we did not see a lot of erosion.”

The Campanile Society, which added 150 members last year, is comprised of 1,480 donors. Their contributions accounted for 37 percent of the total raised by the CSA in 2008.

Campanile members organized and participated in what Bohlmann termed a “wildly successful” undertaking – a phone-a-thon that he and the Campanile Society chair people, Gary and Laura Ruesch of St. Jude Parish, Wauwatosa, organized.

Using a conference room at the offices of Quarles and Brady, where Gary practices law, nine Campanile members made 200 calls within two hours to Campanile members who had contributed in 2007 but had not done so in 2008. The effort generated 37 pledges totaling $40,000.

“People were giving their time and they were talking to their peers,” Bohlmann said of the Aug. 27 event. “It was a very positive environment.”

Near the end of the year, a select group of Campanile members received letters from Archbishop Dolan in which he asked them to make an additional contribution ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. That effort brought in nearly $20,000.

“We’re always trying to find new, different ways to appeal to people, to get that message out – why their money is needed, why their continued support is so important and the impact of those gifts,” Bohlmann said.

‘Rooted in parish culture’

Important partners in the CSA are the parishes, according to Bohlmann, and, in particular, the pastors.

“Pastors set the tone in the parishes because they feel it is important and they make that point to their parishioners – that this is something that, outside their own parish giving, support of the greater church, the universal church is needed. And people will respond,” he said.

Steve and Denise Cremer, members of St. Anthony on the Lake Pewaukee who have served as chair people of the CSA in their parish for more than five years, concur that the pastor plays a crucial role.

“It would go nowhere without the pastor’s support,” said Steve, who makes a presentation to parishioners on the CSA’s kickoff weekend.

He credited the parish’s pastor, Fr. Joe Hornacek, and its previous pastor, Fr. Thomas Venne, with instilling “a tradition of stewardship in our people.”

“We’ve been fortunate and blessed that the parish is very generous,” Cremer said.

Fr. Hornacek said he reminds parishioners throughout the year about the work of the CSA.

“I certainly let them know it’s important. Our gifts contribute to ministries, charities and programs from which our parish benefits,” he said. “I remind them that education programs prepare professional ministers in our parish, and our seminarians, and that I benefited from a seminary education.”

Fr. Hornacek noted that when he goes to the annual Campanile dinner, he might see 20 members from his 1,870 unit parish at the event.

“I see them and they see me. They know I’m not just talking about it (the CSA),” he said. “I believe in it and support it at that (Campanile) level.”

Approximately 27 percent of St. Anthony on the Lake parishioners contribute to the CSA annually, according to the pastor. When he and his associate, Fr. Daniel Volkert, promote it each year, they use Archbishop Dolan’s recorded message and add their “own inspirational thoughts.”

Bohlmann sees St. Anthony on the Lake as an example of how the CSA should be conducted.

“Parishes that do the best – make their goal – have very strong CSA chairs who are givers themselves, promote the appeal, play the audio tape, put inserts into the bulletin, get up and make the pulpit talks, and have pastors who also support the appeal, not only financially, but they also talk it up in their parishes,” he said, noting that 50 percent of the parishes exceed their goals.

In West Bend, Fr. Jeff Haines, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish, described his parish as being “very blessed” by the programs and ministries the CSA supports.

“There are areas where we’ve been touched,” he said.

Noting that one former employee of the 2,100-unit parish had graduated from the Saint Francis Seminary’s certificate program, another had received her master’s degree there, and that the parish has been served by deacons and newly-ordained priests, Fr. Haines said, “There’s a bond with the seminary here, and people see results (from the CSA).”

Helping convey the CSA message at St. Frances Cabrini since 2003 is the appeal’s parish chairperson, Jacquelyn Haas.

“I felt called to help God’s church in this way,” Haas said of her accepting the chairperson position. “I believe in the CSA and in the faith this brings about in the church.”

Haas, 33, describes her annual presentation to parishioners as “a call out to the heart.”

“It’s never about the money,” she said. “It’s about what the money can do.”

Hass, a senior communications specialist at WE Energies where she oversees the outreach education program, uses stories to “highlight the poor, rejected and brokenhearted” in “underscoring giving, what the CSA is about and the value of the church’s work.”

Haas and her husband Daniel will celebrate their eight-month wedding anniversary on Feb. 14, and she will draw upon that event in her presentation.

“I will focus on the invitation to be part of a great party,” she said. “When you come to a wedding, you bring special gifts. In celebration of Christ and his bride, the church, they will bring the finest gifts.”

Noting that during their wedding reception, a 20-minute hail storm required participants to help hold up the tent, Haas likened that to the annual appeal.

“The CSA is all people working together. Holding up the tent is a covenant,” she said.

For Haas, her role in the promoting the CSA is a gift she has been given by God.

“I feel so blessed being a part of this appeal,” she said.

‘Taking His Lead’ this year

The 2009 CSA, chaired by Jay and Kiara Mack, members of St. Anthony on the Lake, Pewaukee, begins the weekend of Feb. 14 and 15 under the theme “Taking His Lead.” Bohlmann explained that the theme reminds potential CSA donors that their contributions make it possible for “modern-day disciples” to carry on Christ’s work.

“It links people working in the church now – clergy and laypeople. No matter what their position is, they are leaders in the church. They are the ones carrying out the mission work of the church right now,” he said.

Bohlmann said the 2009 CSA, with its $7.65 million goal, provides the Catholic Church in southeastern Wisconsin with an opportunity to showcase the “good things” that are happening.

“There are things to celebrate in the archdiocese. Without your support to the appeal, these things would not happen,” he said. “There are people that are leading us, moving the church forward, we’re taking the example of Jesus Christ himself.”

Editor’s note: The Archdiocese of Milwaukee dateline signifies that the administration of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has approved this article for publication.