Key funder of Diocese of Knoxville ministries hits historic benchmark
By Jim Wogan
The Bishop’s Appeal for Ministries, a vital source of annual funding for diocesan works of mercy, formation, and outreach, set a record in 2022—surpassing the $3 million mark for the first time in diocesan history.
“Support of the appeal in 2022 has been astonishing,” said Deacon Hicks Armor, director of stewardship and strategic planning for the Diocese of Knoxville. “The fact that parishioners have always understood our mission has been, quite frankly, humbling and fulfilling.
“We owe a great debt of gratitude and thanks to the parishes, the priests and deacons who communicated our message, and of course the parishioners who heard our call and supported the appeal.”
With the 2023 Bishop’s Appeal for Ministries now underway, the official total for the 2022 appeal won’t be settled until sometime in late March, after all receipts are reviewed. The stewardship office, which oversees the annual campaign, says “gifts received” have now surpassed $3 million, with some commitments still outstanding.
“Absolutely amazing for a diocese our size,” Bishop Richard F. Stika said. “The appeal has grown almost every year since I have been here, and it’s not me. It has been the hard work of our stewardship office over all these years that has allowed this to happen. Each year, they have formed a message, one that clearly defines who we are as a Catholic Church, and it’s been uplifting to see parishioners across the diocese respond the way they have, each year, to support our work.”
Growth is nothing new for the Bishop’s Appeal for Ministries. In 2010, one year into Bishop Stika’s episcopacy in Knoxville, the appeal raised $920,000. It surpassed $1.2 million in 2013. By 2019, the appeal reached $2.7 million. Last year, the annual Bishop’s Appeal for Ministries raised $2.9 million.
“We’ve come a long way since 2009,” Bishop Stika said. “We might be a small diocese, but we are doing great things. The growth of the appeal has allowed us to expand the work our ministries do, ministries like Catholic Charities of East Tennessee. It helps keep our St. Mary’s mobile medical clinic on the road. It helps fund seminarian education and continuing formation for our priests. And it allows us to shape the lives of children and young adults in our faith. We get a lot done with the $3 million that our parishioners give us,” Bishop Stika said.
Catholic Charities of East Tennessee
Last August, Catholic Charites of East Tennessee announced the resumption of an Adoption Services program, allowing women facing an unplanned pregnancy a life-saving option for their child.
“While adoption was suspended in 2014, the idea was to really bring it back and create a complete circle of service around the women that we serve,” said Lisa Healy, CCETN executive director. “We started to talk about adoption with the board about three years ago. It has taken us about 18 months to put the whole program together.”
Having adoption services through Catholic Charities is welcome news to Darlene and Terry Leitz, who adopted two sons through Catholic Charities decades ago.
“We got called on a Friday night saying Christopher was born and we were supposed to pick him up Sunday. So, boom, Sunday afternoon we’re driving down to Catholic Charities and driving home with this child,” Mrs. Leitz said.
A few years later, the couple adopted a second child, Matthew, through Catholic Charities. They were present when Catholic Charities of East Tennessee announced that adoption services would resume as an extension of CCETN’s Pregnancy Help Center.
“This whole thing seems like we’ve come full circle. Who knew that when we adopted these boys 34 years ago, and 26 years ago, and then do this, [it] is such a love letter to our boys and thanksgiving to God,” Mrs. Leitz added.
Coming off a successful career in health-care administration, Deacon Jim Bello is now getting a crash course in how to lead faith formation in the Diocese of Knoxville. On the day he was ordained last June, Deacon Bello was appointed director of Christian Formation for the diocese.
In the weeks that followed, he started an assessment of training needs and program development for parishes.
Since then, Deacon Bello has been able to visit parishes where adult faith formation, Bible study classes, and new programs like the “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd” for young children are flourishing.
“A big part of my job is looking at what parishes do well and then organize it in such a way that it would be available to other parishes, too,” Deacon Bello said. “There are several parishes right now that stand out as having good faith formation programs. I see the Office of Christian Formation as being a resource for the parishes to help them get to where they want to be.”
The Easter Vigil Mass offers a moment to witness the growth of the diocese, when new Catholics are welcomed into the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) each year.
One of the final steps of that process, the Rite of Election, took place at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus over two days in late February. More than 200 people from across the diocese participated.
“We have so many parishes that have become very good at evangelization…and they are bringing people into our diocese,” said Deacon Bello. “People are becoming Catholic from other denominations or from having no faith at all … and that’s really where the Office of Christian Formation can step in and say, now let us help you with the resources that we have to catechize. So, we’ve evangelized these people and now we have to teach them what the Catholic Church teaches.”
God willing, transitional deacons Joseph Austin, Neil Blatchford, and Andrew Crabtree will be ordained as priests in the Diocese of Knoxville this summer. The path to the priesthood takes a lot of prayer, perseverance, study, and, yes, money.
“The cost to educate a seminarian is roughly $40,000 per year, if not more,” Bishop Stika said. “We have 13 seminarians at various stages of study. So, it takes an enormous financial commitment on the part of the diocese to form our future priests. These are men who will serve in our parishes. While many of our ministries benefit our parishes, seminarian and clergy formation are probably the most visible,” Bishop Stika added.
In 2023, clergy and seminarian formation will receive the largest contribution from the Bishop’s Appeal for Ministries—$835,000. That amount covers just a portion of the total cost to educate diocesan seminarians.
Youth, young adult, and college campus ministries
In February 2022, more than 1,100 people were in Knoxville for a regional faith conference hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). More than 90 percent of the attendees were college students.
While the 2022 regional conference in Knoxville wasn’t funded by the diocese, the diocese does provide substantial financial support for FOCUS chapters on two of its college campuses: the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and UT-Chattanooga.
“College life is challenging, not just academically, but even more so socially,” Bishop Stika said. “We provide our children a solid faith foundation, and then many of them go off to college where they don’t have the same Catholic opportunities that they had through their home and parish. Our commitment to having a Catholic presence on all of our major college campuses—including at ETSU in Johnson City, where we also have a Catholic Center—is so important.”
Additionally, the Office of Youth, Young Adult, and Pastoral Juvenil sponsors dozens of pilgrimages, classes, and faith events each year.
Office of Justice and Peace
With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end the constitutional protection for abortion, the battleground for the protection of the unborn has reverted to state legislatures. In Tennessee, a law went into effect in August 2022 that bans abortion except in certain limited instances. The Tennessee General Assembly is now considering a change to that law, which could open the door for more abortions.
“Our Office of Justice and Peace has been active in defense of life at every stage, from birth to natural death,” Bishop Stika said. “It has helped guide us and supported messaging to our governor on the death penalty issue, and it has been very active on the abortion issue. With prayer vigils and a peaceful presence at abortion sites around East Tennessee, we have been able to counter the messaging and actions of the abortion industry.”
St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic
Eight days a month, the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic rolls into communities across East Tennessee that have one thing in common: a critical need for health care.
“I was a type-2 diabetic, so it was pretty important that I get medical care quickly,” said Teresa Garcia, a patient who found her way to the clinic’s stop in Athens last summer. “I was a health-care professional, so I’ve been there, I know what it’s about.”
Ms. Garcia had lost her job. Without insurance, and facing serious medical concerns, she turned to the clinic for much-needed assistance.
“You come here, and they don’t treat you like you’re somebody off the street. They treat you like a person, and you count. I just feel safe here when I come.”
Bishop Stika established the clinic in 2013 with funds from the sale of Mercy Health Partners. It began its first community visits in 2014, and since then has expanded its outreach to include a stop each month at the Catholic Charities Pregnancy Help Center location in Scott County.
“Tennessee is second in the nation in rural hospital closures. We’ve come to Helenwood to serve the needs of the medically uninsured and to help fill the void that hospital closures have created here,” said Martin Vargas, executive director of St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic.
In addition to Athens and Helenwood, the clinic also makes visits to Crab Orchard, Decatur, Gatlinburg, Knoxville, Rutledge, and Washburn.
Reflecting on success
March can be a challenging time to focus on the success of the 2022 Bishop’s Appeal for Ministries. Officially, the appeal ended on Feb. 28. In the meantime, the appeal for this year, 2023, has already started.
“We hope the message comes through loud and clear,” Deacon Armor said. “We want to thank those people who supported the 2022 Bishop’s Appeal for Ministries, and we want them to be aware that they have allowed us to reach a new and substantial record ($3 million). Because of that success, we have increased some of the ministry funding levels for 2023. We want everyone to know that we’re grateful, and that the appeal’s growth is translating into growth for those ministries.”