2021 Bishop’s Appeal, which assists vital ministries, begins amid fallout from the pandemic
By Jim Wogan
Each year, parishioners of the Diocese of Knoxville are asked to contribute to the annual diocesan Bishop’s Appeal. The appeal allows the faithful to offer vital financial support for the many ministries of the Diocese of Knoxville.
In 2021, like everything else, things are different.
St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, one of the most visible ministries of the diocese, isn’t immune to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The health crisis has taken lives, shuttered businesses, and disrupted good intentions across the globe. But it hasn’t destroyed compassion and mercy.
The clinic, established by Bishop Richard F. Stika in 2014, provides free medical care to people who don’t have the access or financial means to receive it otherwise. The clinic travels to six mostly rural counties each month, and while those visits were temporarily stopped during the early days of the pandemic, the staff continued to provide care in other ways.
“Our staff started driving medications to patients themselves,” said Sister Mary Lisa Renfer, RSM, the clinic’s recently appointed medical director. “The clinic couldn’t go out, so the staff delivered all different kinds of medication to patients at their houses.”
The St. Mary’s clinic has resumed community visits, and in response to the pandemic, Sister Mary Lisa said the staff has now developed new ways to connect with patients through tele-medicine.
“We’re able to do telephone and video visits with a lot of our patients. It also allows us to do follow-up visits between our clinic stops in these communities, so it has opened up a new door for us,” she said.
While the clinic rolls on, the pandemic has presented some less visible challenges.
“Donations are significantly down during the pandemic, so we have been stretched a little thin with that,” she said.
With outside donations down, the clinic and many other ministries of the Diocese of Knoxville may be more dependent on contributions from the 2021 Bishop’s Appeal, which begins this month.
The theme of the 2021 Bishop’s Appeal is “Anchored in Christ.”
“The Catholic Church in East Tennessee, through our many ministries, is a harbor where people can come and feel His presence,” Bishop Stika said. “As members of this diocese, we anchor ourselves in Christ. The many ministries of the diocese wouldn’t exist without support from our parishioners. I have asked them to remember that we aren’t separate individuals, we are One Body of Christ, and together we serve others through our diocesan ministries.”
St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic is budgeted to receive $50,000 from the 2021 Bishop’s Appeal, money that will assist its medical mission. Since 2014, the clinic has received $500,000 from the annual appeal.
The generosity of parishioners is evident in past diocesan Bishop’s Appeal efforts, and their support is reflected in the growth of the appeal, which has been dramatic.
In 2010, the appeal raised just over $900,000. In 2011, it surpassed $1 million. The appeal set a record in 2012 when parishioners contributed nearly $1.6 million. A year later, the appeal surpassed $2.1 million. The books for the 2020 Bishop’s Appeal close at the end of February. It is expected to generate more than $2.7 million for diocesan ministries.
“Even in the midst of a pandemic, our parishioners did a tremendous job supporting the appeal in 2020,” Bishop Stika said. “I pray that their generosity can continue in 2021. Not for me, but for the people our ministries serve.”
The appeal has a broad impact on the ministries of the Diocese of Knoxville. It supports Christian formation programs like adult and youth religious education at the diocesan and parish levels. It pays for education and ongoing formation of seminarians, priests, and deacons. The diocese currently has 18 seminarians in school and 25 deacon candidates in formation.
The appeal also supports youth, young adult, and college campus ministries — the diocese currently has Catholic ministries on three college campuses.
The Office of Justice and Peace, which supports diocesan and parish pro-life and social justice efforts, also receives support from the annual Bishop’s Appeal.
And the many programs of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee are supported by the annual appeal.
Despite the challenges of the past year, the Diocese of Knoxville’s new director of stewardship is optimistic of the appeal’s potential for success this year.
“As we reflect back, and look forward to 2021, it’s easy to focus on pandemic, hardship, and suffering,” said Deacon Hicks Armor. “We may need to redirect our focus on how blessed we were during the pandemic, that more did not suffer, and that through the generous gifts of time, talent, and treasure we were able to help many people in need.
“The blessing is that, yes, there were needs, but there were those who stepped up, met the needs, and shared their blessings with others. There are silver linings in many clouds, and we just have to look a little closer to see God’s influence in our lives.”