Your gift to annual appeal makes it all possible

By Catholic New World
Sunday, December 4, 2011

Parishioners at St. Sylvester Parish, 2157 N. Humboldt Blvd., pray during a "Festival of Prayer" held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 26. During the festival the Blessed Sacrament was exposed and parishioners came for silent prayer, to pray the rosary in English and Spanish, to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and for other prayer services. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

Father Paul Stein had been pastor of St. Sylvester Parish in Logan Square for only a couple of months in the fall of 2007 when he realized that he needed help.

A janitor had left the faucet running in a second-floor slop sink on a Friday afternoon, and by Monday morning, the water had damaged nearly half the building.

Stein needed help with more than just the school. Looking around, he could see work required all over the parish campus, some of whose buildings were nearly 100 years old.

So he called on the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Facilities and Construction, one of the many departments funded with the help of the Annual Catholic Appeal. Greg Veith, the office’s manager, and Don Turlek, the manager of the Office of Insurance and Risk Management, helped Stein through the process of filing insurance claims and getting the school repaired.

At the same time, the archdiocese paid for a study of the parish’s buildings to find out what needed to be done and helped underwrite the development of a master plan, which was created by Newman Architects with the input of parishioners.

Very grateful

Barbara Shea Collins, the director of development services/Annual Catholic Appeal, wants donors to the appeal to know how very grateful the archdiocese is for their support. Each year, parishioners give millions of dollars to help schools and parishes in needy areas; to support religious education; to recruit, train and offer ongoing formation to priests, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers; to promote the dignity of life; to offer comfort, care and counseling to those in need; and to support Catholic Relief Services development efforts around the world.

This year, donors pledged a record $20 million. Much of it will rebated to their own parishes.

Collins also wants people to know that their money is being used to good effect.

“This is a success story of hope,” she said.

Coming together

Now, just over four years later, the master plan at St. Sylvester is starting to come together. One building — the former parish hall — has been demolished, because it was in such a state of disrepair and so far out of building code that it was dangerous. A new parking lot, which the parish paid for, occupies part of that space.

Offices have been moved from the former rectory into the former convent — which was reclaimed after being leased to Catholic Charities — and the former rectory is slated to come down as well, as soon as the parish can get approval from the city of Chicago. The rectory will be replaced with green space, including a prayer garden. Some of that green space will eventually be occupied with a building linking the church and the gym, with new bathrooms, a new kitchen and some meeting rooms, but the prayer garden will remain.

“The people know there is a plan,” Stein said, “so when I say we need to do something, they’ll ask if it’s in the plan. When I tell them it is, they say, ‘OK, Father. Let’s do it.’”

Much of that work remains in the future. Starting much sooner will be a million-dollar plus capital campaign aimed at sealing the outside of the 101-year-old church building, restoring the interior and exterior of the brick bell tower, preserving the stained glass windows and putting in a new sound system.

While St. Sylvester is not a wealthy parish, fundraising consultants who have done pre-interviews say the level of enthusiasm among parishioners gives them confidence that the parish can meet its goal, Stein said.

For Collins, St. Sylvester’s story shows the power of the appeal. The archdiocese, with help from the appeal’s donors, was able to provide the seed money for the studies that set St. Sylvester on the right track, and some assistance in tearing down a hazardous building.

Once parishioners knew where they were going — and had confidence the parish could get there — they climbed on board and started driving the train.

A similar transformation has been under way at St. Sylvester School, which was contending with low enrollment and a parish population that could not afford the whole cost of Catholic education.

In 2007, the school had 196 students and needed a grant of $250,000 from the archdiocese just to survive. But with some savvy planning — including opening a second preschool classroom to widen the pipeline into kindergarten and adding sports, music and other programs to attract families — the enrollment has increased and the grant has decreased each year. Now there are 40 percent more students receiving quality Catholic education, he said, and the grant it is receiving this year is under $200,000.

“I can say the school would not be open today without the support of the Annual Catholic Appeal,” he said