By Susan Bailey | Catholic Free Press Correspondent
When Father James Steuterman, pastor of St. Richard’s in Sterling, first learned of the Legacy of Hope campaign, he was far from enthusiastic. “I was not happy about it, especially because it was a time when the latest eruption of the abuse scandal was happening,” he said.
A listening session hosted by Bishop McManus at Blessed Sacrament Church in Worcester caused him to rethink his position.
“It was a wonderful opportunity for this group of 40 or so priests to air our feelings and thoughts as well as hear what others were experiencing,” he said. “Part of what I shared that day was that the very idea of trying to raise money at a time like this was a bad idea; we had lost all credibility as an institution.”
This open discourse proved pivotal for Father Steuterman. As chaplain of the Sterling Fire Department, he was familiar with listening sessions as a means of working through trauma for first responders.
“I wondered about the pain and disillusionment of so many at the failure of a priest they knew, the death of a priest, even the transfer of a beloved priest, and especially at the closing of a parish,” he said. “Instead of experiencing that ‘We’ dimension of community, too often people were left with confusion, aloneness and negativity.”
In lieu of these challenges, Father Steuterman began to see how coming together over the Legacy of Hope campaign could lead to a stronger Church.
“In the middle of this weak, fallible and sometimes scandalous ‘field hospital’ made up of broken humanity, stands none other than Jesus Christ. Yes, of course we are called to a higher standard, especially the clergy. But reality is reality and reminds us that this is why the world needed a savior in the first place. The Church is strong and it cannot fail. Some have failed, are failing and will continue to fail, but the real power of the church is in its “We” energy, the very energy of God.”
He realized that Legacy of Hope was not just another plea for financial support but a genuine means of rebuilding the Church.
“We must all play our part in preserving the Catholic tradition, leaving an honest and genuine legacy that is realistic about human nature, the need for God and our hopes for the future.”
Armed with a renewed sense of vision, Father Steuterman returned to St. Richard’s, immediately calling upon two parishioners to co-chair the campaign. Asked to help with a “project,” John Potter and Ellen Zanino agreed to the task.
“Father has made such a difference in our lives, “said Ms. Zanino, “I would say yes to anything that he needed for the parish.” Mr. Potter admitted to feeling overwhelmed after being introduced to Legacy of Hope, but after prayer and reflection, agreed to take a “leap of faith.”
In the beginning phase, a series of receptions were held at the parish to inform the community about the campaign. Attendees viewed a short video and were invited to ask questions.
“As we prayed together before each reception, we thanked God for entrusting us with the role of helping to sustain his church, and asked for his help in communicating the message of Legacy of Hope,” said Ms. Zanino.
The co-chairs reported that all the receptions were well attended, particularly one held in the afternoon. “The energy of the faith and commitment in that room was palpable,” Ms. Zanino said.
The pleasure that attendees experienced in getting together and re-affirming their commitment to St. Richard’s and the Church quickly translated into the promise of support.
“Pledge cards began to be turned in within the first week after the first reception – very little follow-up was needed throughout the campaign,” said Ms. Zanino.
Allyson Picard was one of those who pledged, inspired by the leadership of Father Steuterman.
“There was no ‘begging’ in this campaign, and no pressure on parishioners to give,” she said. “Father didn’t put the volunteers in an uncomfortable position. He’s simply a great leader who inspires people in a gentle and humble manner.”
According to Ms. Zanino, Father Steuterman along with Parish Administrator Kathy Majikas put into place other key factors to assure success: a prayer committee to pray each day for the campaign, timely and efficient parish communication and pledge handling, and the procurement of nearly 50 volunteers to help with hospitality, prayer and phone/email outreach.
The end of the six-month campaign culminated with a Commitment Weekend where Father Steuterman shared the purpose and value of Legacy of Hope at all the Masses. His homily, which included portions of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was followed by an invitation to the congregation to kneel and pray over their pledge while a soaring rendition of “The Impossible Dream” played in the background.
Co-chair Mr. Potter remarked, “This homily, with MLK’s words and the kneeling to ‘The Impossible Dream,’ was the most important motivator and attention-getter of the whole program. If you did not know what you were being asked to be a part of before — you did now.”
Ms. Zanino also credited her pastor for the success of the campaign.
“He was honest about his journey in coming to believe in the mission of Legacy of Hope, and thus led the parishioners to believe themselves,” she said. “In communicating his vision for Legacy of Hope, Father kept it simple and from the heart. His sincere desire to ensure the future of the Catholic Church in Worcester County in general, and our little country parish in particular, shone through each moment of the homily.”
In the end, St. Richard’s of Sterling surpassed their goal of $467,314. Legacy of Hope Executive Director Michael Messano reported a total, as of June 15, of $500,878.