The monument of the Church, often the most beautiful and imposing building in any town, stirs our pride and our faith. Touching the stones of an ancient edifice constructed for the purpose of worship calls to mind the ancient traditions and rich history of the Catholic faith.
When these buildings fall into disrepair, communities rise up to meet the challenge because a mar on the face of the building seems like a scratch on the face of our Faith. But take away the faith, the faithful and the pastor, and the buildings are nothing more than dead stone and echoes.
Who builds these cathedrals? Whose history do they tell? What can we do to carry on this holy communion for our children and the grandchildren of their children?
“The really fundamental thing in our Church is that our Church is about people, not buildings,” Catholic United Financial Foundation Executive Director Robert Heuermann says. “A church is a body of people led by a pastor. We often commit to supporting an outside shell of a church, but that’s not what makes up the parish community.”
In his November 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis emphasized the need for a culture of support for vocations. “The fraternal life and fervor of the community can awaken in the young a desire to consecrate themselves completely to God and to preaching of the Gospel. This is particularly true if such a living community prays insistently for vocations, and courageously proposes to its young people the path of special consecration,” Pope Francis wrote.
Have you helped a Seminarian today?
The United States College of Catholic Bishops has decreed National Vocation Awareness Week to be the first week in November, Nov. 6-12. The weeklong celebration of priestly and religious formation promotes vocations to the priesthood and other religious life through prayer and education. Catholics throughout the country are encouraged to renew their prayers of support for those who are considering one of these vocations.
The members of Catholic United have proven over the years to be ardent supporters of seminarians and the priesthood. The creation and initial endowing of the Msgr. Schuler Fund have proven our members make the connection between the health of the church and the quality of its pastors.
The Msgr. Schuler Seminarian Fund helps future priests focus on their discernment instead of worrying about finances. Every year of their minor and major seminary study, men studying to become priests in Catholic United territory can apply for a grant from the fund. These gifts are currently $400 a year for major seminarians and $250 for minor seminarians. Despite their modest size, they are wildly popular among men whose studies preclude a night job. More than 1,500 grants have been made totaling more than $600,000.
“Already not a week goes by that I’m not out in a community meeting a newly placed priest and the first question I ask is if they received a Schuler grant,” Heuermann says. “Inevitably now the answer is yes.”
Now, Heuermann says, we’re working to ensure that, like the stone monuments that house our worship, the endowment to support its shepherds will last forever.
There are many ways to support vocations and celebrate Vocation Awareness Week. You can make an individual donation to the Msgr. Schuler Fund or a long-term gift through life insurance or a charitable annuity. Your Parish Volunteer Team or Council could make a donation – it even counts as an activity for Member Engagement.
You could even take the process into your own hands as St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie, Minn., has done.
Eight years ago, a local boy named Doug Liebsch answered the call and entered seminary. The community of St. Mary of Mount Carmel — the people of that parish — was so proud of their seminarian they began to run their own fundraiser to provide Liebsch with a small gift to help him with expenses. It began as a chili feed but has evolved to a twice-a-year French toast breakfast with a free will donation. As an event that benefits Catholic education, it qualifies for a Catholic United Matching Grant.
Since their initial outpouring of support for (now) Fr. Liebsch, the parish has been blessed with two more seminarians who are at different stages of their priestly formation.
“This is important because we are a service organization and we really need priests!” says St. Mary of Mount Carmel Volunteer Liaison Sharon Koll. “It’s a lot of work, but we’re happy to do it to have new priests coming from our parish.”
Other councils run scholarships or other fundraising for hometown seminarians as well. The National College of Catholic Bishops asks that during Vocation Awareness Week, Catholics simply think about how they can help promote vocations, and to encourage young people to ask themselves: “To what vocation in life is God calling me?”
For St. Mary of Mount Carmel, after putting on the event and catching up with all the members who come to support their local priest-to-be, the council simply writes the young men a check after they receive their matched funds. “We hope to keep a relationship with these priests for their whole vocation,” Koll says. “I think we’ll keep in touch, they visit and celebrate Mass with us when they’re on break, and you know they’ll get assigned somewhere in the St. Cloud Diocese.”
The Msgr. Schuler Fund is striving to reach $1 million in endowed funds before the end of 2018. It has surpassed half its goal, but still doesn’t have the resources necessary to live on in perpetuity.
“Our commitment has always been to build the community where our members live work and worship,’ Heuermann says. “This is a fundamental way for us as an organization and for individuals to repay the future leaders of our church for the lifelong commitment they’re making toward continuing the tradition of our Faith.”
Upon reaching its goal, the Fund will no longer need to use income to pay benefits; all grants could be made with the interest from the endowment.
“The members of this Association have always had a deep appreciation of priestly formation and the need to support seminarians,” Catholic United President Harald Borrmann says. “These young men are the future of the Church, the more prepared they are, the better pastors they will be, and we want to help them achieve that goal.”
As the endowment grows, Heuermann hopes to not only guarantee awards can be made indefinitely into the future, he also hopes to increase the amount donated to each individual up to $750 or even $1,000 some day, for major seminarians, he says.
“For the people who we turn to in life’s most challenging moments, in tears and in joy, the time they can spend discerning their calling is best spent doing just that, not worrying about money,” Heuermann says.
As the holidays approach and you think about giving, consider if a family member on your list could forego another pair of socks and might appreciate a more meaningful gift in their name. Be a part of building something that lasts for generations, that shines the light of our faith brightly and that inspires and informs populations of Catholics in years long beyond your own.
Consider making a donation to the Msgr. Schuler Fund to help us reach our goal and support a new generation of shepherds. Call or email the Foundation to learn how you can help: 1-877-275-7145 or firstname.lastname@example.org.