October 25, 2013

The United Catholic Appeal and charity: ‘A chance to see what the Church is really about’

(This is the fourth in a series of four articles looking at how “United Catholic Appeal: Christ Our Hope” funds are distributed, and how the funds benefit all in the archdiocese. See the third article.)

By Natalie Hoefer

Imagine the expense, burden and work involved if each parish offered its own homeless shelter and maternity home for unwed mothers.

Such efforts would be impractical and a vast duplication of resources, time and money.

Add the challenge of providing a quality Catholic education at little cost to children from poverty level homes.

To resolve these dilemmas while still offering the charity Christ called his disciples to provide, the archdiocese coordinates these ministries throughout central and southern Indiana.

Through such entities as Catholic Charities, Mother Theodore Catholic Academies, St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities home for women in crisis pregnancies and other such agencies, the archdiocese fulfills Christ’s call to charity.

This week, we highlight how, by donating to “United Catholic Appeal: Christ Our Hope,” each Catholic in the archdiocese is able to fulfill Christ’s call to exercise charity.

‘A crisis away from ruin’

“Ann,” a 43-year-old single mom, struggled but managed to support herself and her three children.

Then the youngest child, “Shelby,” was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

This crisis proved too much for Ann’s already shaky circumstances. She often had to miss work in order to take Shelby to medical appointments and hospitalizations.

She soon lost her job, and then their apartment. Family members were unable to provide a solution, so Ann turned in desperation to Catholic Charities’ Holy Family Shelter.

“So many people are just a health crisis away or one job loss away from financial ruin,” said David Siler, executive director for Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, after providing this real-life story.

That’s when the lifeline of Catholic Charities becomes so crucial to people in need. And funds from the United Catholic Appeal provide nearly 10 percent of Catholic Charities’ annual budget.

“Those funds are a very important piece that allows us to operate 35 distinct programs serving people in a lot of different life circumstances throughout the archdiocese,” Siler noted.

He encourages people to see faces when they consider giving to the United Catholic Appeal.

“We may provide the only meal that a young child eats on a given day. We may be the only source of shelter a mother can provide for her children. There are babies brought to term that wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t provided two crisis pregnancy centers in the archdiocese.”

He stated that the need for help has increased with the downturn in the economy. In the 2011-12 fiscal year, nearly 184,000 individuals received help from Catholic Charities throughout the archdiocese.

“A lot of people are new poor, who never had to seek help before,” Siler said. “They’re easy to spot. They have a glazed look of shame and guilt.

“We provide crisis services, but what we really focus on is providing a hand up for people, like job training, counseling or helping put a family back together after a crisis. We provide a way out so they don’t have to continue coming back to us and can move forward in their lives.”

Siler sees the United Catholic Appeal as a way to connect with the larger Church.

“There are things we need to come together to do because the needs are bigger than one parish, like crisis pregnancy centers and adoption services.

“It’s a chance to see what the Church is really about. We’re part of a larger body, and in the end, that’s the body of Christ.”

‘Diamonds in the rough’

“Joe” was content and doing well at the former St. Andrew and St. Rita Catholic Academy in Indianapolis. But his mother fell upon hard times and could no longer afford the tuition. Joe had to switch to another school.

The archdiocese’s Mother Theodore Catholic Academies consortium stepped in.

“They were able to offer financial assistance at a greater level,” said Ruth Tinsley, principal of Holy Cross Central, a school of Mother Theodore Catholic Academies in Indianapolis. “He was able to return to [St. Andrew and St. Rita] school. From there, he went on to [Bishop] Chatard High School [in Indianapolis], and he is now studying music and theater at Indiana State University.

“There is no way he would have received the education he received from a Catholic school if not for the money from the United Catholic Appeal,” Tinsley added.

Mother Theodore Catholic Academies (MTCA) is made up of four Indianapolis center-city Catholic elementary schools and one pre-school, all managed by one central business office.

Considering that 95 percent of MTCA’s 864 children live at or below the poverty level, affordability is crucial, said Tinsley.

“[United Catholic Appeal] funds allow us to provide scholarships and financial aid that make Catholic education reachable to families.”

And that, she said, is a gift that keeps on giving—on multiple levels.

First, she said, 73 percent of the children who graduate from a MTCA school go on to attend a Catholic high school.

“For some of these families, these children are the first to go to high school,” said Tinsley.

Next, by being introduced to the Catholic faith and traditions, some children convert to Catholicism.

“Parents know up front that their children will be educated in the Catholic faith. [The children] are immersed in the Catholic religion every day in religion class, Mass and taking part in the Mass,” said Tinsley. “It’s that immersion into the Catholic faith that makes a difference.

“This year alone, I have over 20 children [at Holy Cross Central] who are going to be baptized, who prior to coming to a Catholic school wouldn’t have considered it. And children in turn evangelize their parents without even knowing it.”

Tinsley calls these children “diamonds in the rough.

“All they need is to have someone love and care for them, and they will respond.”

‘Without us, what would she have done?’

When a manager arrived at the St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities home for pregnant women in New Albany early one day in the spring of 2013, she found a young woman curled up on the wicker couch on the porch.

“She spent the night out in the moisture and wind,” said agency director Mark Casper. “All her earthly belongings were in two garbage bags. She was pregnant and needed a place to stay.

“We are really the only maternity home and shelter from Indianapolis on down. If we weren’t here, what would she have done?”

While finding a woman in need on the porch is not an everyday occurrence at the maternity home in New Albany, meeting the needs of women in crisis pregnancies is, and United Catholic Appeal funds help meet those needs.

“Without those funds, we wouldn’t be able to provide a maternity home for unwed mothers, a homeless shelter for women and children, mental health counseling to the community and distribute baby items such as diapers and baby food,” Casper said.

According to Casper, the agency is run through the archdiocese for practical reasons.

“The five [regional branches of] Catholic Charities of the archdiocese have a lot of areas covered so each parish doesn’t have to duplicate services.

“But since we’re not tied to any particular parish, we don’t have the ability to raise money through tithing. So it’s basically the whole archdiocese helping to contribute to the greater Church.

“We couldn’t do what we do without the money raised by the United Catholic Appeal,” Casper added. “It keeps our doors open and allows us to focus on serving those in need.”

(For more information on the United Catholic Appeal, log on to www.archindy.org/uca or call the Office of Stewardship and Development at 317-236-1425 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1425.)

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