Reaching out

Funds raised by RC archdiocese go to numerous social programs

Deana Stokes Sullivan
Published on February 7, 2011
Anne Walsh, director of adult faith formation, at the offices of the archdiocese of St. John's.
Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Anne Walsh, director of adult faith formation with the St. John’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese works out of a small office in the heart of the city, but the scope of her varied duties extends far beyond a single worksite.

Walsh and two of her colleagues, Noreen Yetman and Mary Lou Sweetapple, are responsible for family and adult catechesis. Walsh is also one of two people providing part-time chaplaincy services at Memorial University in an interdenominational setting. They offer general counselling, prayer, religious education and bible study.

Once a month, an interdenominational prayer service is held, followed by a supper and, on Sundays, a Catholic mass is held on campus. “One of my jobs is to find priests around the city or who might be travelling into the city who would preside at the Eucharist for us,” Walsh said.

The chaplaincy office has an open-door policy, with no religious discrimination.

Walsh estimates the Catholic chaplains alone assist between 50 and 100 people a week.

Around Christmas, there are also special activities, such as a food hamper program to help those in need.

While that sounds like a pretty busy workload, Walsh also handles communications for the archdiocese and its youth ministry and co-ordinates events such as World Youth Day activities.

During an interview this week, Walsh was also looking forward to attending training sessions to participate in a “Human Library” event with international students to help stop prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping.

In recent years, she said programs offered by the archdiocese have been affected by budget restraints just because the dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to and that’s led to fewer program facilitators.

The archdiocese has had to “stretch resources pretty thin,” Walsh said, “but it’s what we have to do. We’ve had to become more inventive.”

As examples, Walsh said, within the last three years, a director of youth ministry and chaplain at MUN resigned and both couldn’t be replaced. “So, those positions, those services have been taken up by other offices.”

Since the archdiocese disclosed in January that a recent audit found a misappropriation of more than $500,000 by a former business manager, Walsh said there have been a lot of questions and concerns about the possible effects on people assisted by its programs.

“Right now, Archbishop (Martin) Currie is tremendously concerned that we not cut anything further than we already have,” Walsh said. Even in a time of “great internal trial and suffering,” she said the archdiocese doesn’t want to lose sight of the fact that it exists in order to help people and possibly even expand its offerings.

She said getting beyond trials like this could send a message of hope to the world about keeping the focus on those in need and suffering.

“The plan right now is to go through the regular means of fundraising,” she said, through parish collections, the archbishop’s appeal and donations from agencies and groups.

Many people have the notion that money raised by the St. John’s archdiocese goes to the Basilica, its most prominent landmark and parish.

It’s a common misconception, Walsh said, but the funds actually go toward numerous chaplaincy, counselling and pastoral care programs in a large region from St. John’s to Burin and Placentia.

Unbudgeted special collections are also organized to contribute to global relief funds. As an example, people within the archdiocese contributed about $214,000 to the Haiti relief fund through the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. Another $37,000 was raised for flood relief in Pakistan and $40,000 for the hurricane Igor relief fund in this province.

An annual archbishop’s appeal dinner, which in recent years has included an auction, is another way the archdiocese raises money for its pastoral projects and programs.

“In 2010, between the appeal dinner and the actual appeal in its parishes, about $195,000 came in and the year before a little over $200,000,” Walsh said.

Religious communities and foundations, such as the Presentation Sisters and Mercy Sisters, also contribute a lot in terms of service and funding, Walsh said. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate them and how much their work benefits the sick and the poor, the elderly and all the vulnerable around the city.”

She said the Redemptorist priests at St. Teresa’s Parish are also generous with their time, talent and money.

Among the archdiocese services, a combination of paid professionals and volunteers provide chaplaincy services at hospitals, long-term care and seniors facilities, penitentiaries and institutions.

Walsh said religious education and ministry formation programs are also offered to train people to be active in their own parishes to help people in need. And, a family life bureau operated out of the archdiocese, which provides marriage preparation programs, also offers general counselling. It was set up in response to the Winter Commission on sexual abuse by clergy and continues to employ four counsellors on a full or part-time basis. Fees are charged on a sliding scale or waived, depending on each person’s ability to pay.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is investigating the missing funds from the archdiocese dating back to 2003, but no charges have yet been laid. Walsh said the archdiocese doesn’t anticipate having to raise extra money to make up the loss. “We would aim to be the best stewards we can be of the money and the time and talent of all those people,” she said, “and continue to keep our eyes focused on reaching out, not on the loss but on what can we do with what we do have.”