County chairpersons appointed to help steer Bishop’s Annual Appeal

By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer

Ten diocesan faithful will lead the 2017 Bishop’s Annual Appeal (BAA) “Growing Our Parish Family” with the goal of raising $5 million for children, families, men and women throughout Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill counties.

Msgr. Edward Sacks, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Bethlehem, who will serve as chaplain for the effort, said BAA reflects Pope Francis’ reminder that “by simple gestures, by simple prayerful actions that honor Christ in the least of his brothers and sisters, we can bring the power of his love into our world, and truly change it.

“Across the diocese thousands of individuals choose the appeal as one of those simple gestures that can change the world. Through the appeal, we feed and clothe the poor, we teach our children, we care for our senior citizens, and much more.”

With the help of donors, said Msgr. Sacks, many programs and services are made possible, including senior services, classroom education and parish-based activities.

“Your support will make a difference in your own community and across the diocese because, quite simply, you bring the power of God’s love into our world,” he said.

The county chairs will also guide BAA, which provides support to Catholic Health and Human Services, most notably Catholic Charities, Diocese of Allentown; the care of retired and infirm priests; Catholic Life and Evangelization; education and formation of seminarians, deacons and priests; education including special learning centers; and the Bishop’s Catholic high school scholarships.

Chairpersons for the 2017 BAA are:

  • Berks County – John and Jackie Lesniewski.
  • Carbon County – Deacon John and Rita Mroz.
  • Lehigh County – Chris and Mary Birkhead.
  • Northampton County – Gabe and Gina Scala.
  • Schuylkill County – Bob and Toni Plesnarski.

To learn more about BAA or to make a gift, visit

John and Jackie Lesniewski

John and Jackie Lesniewski

The Lesniewskis, parishioners of St. Ignatius Loyola, Sinking Spring, said they were honored when their leadership was requested for this important endeavor that brings assistance to countless people.

“We hope, along with all the county chairpersons, that we can inspire our Catholic brothers and sisters to acknowledge the importance of BAA so all the social services and ministerial needs of our five counties can be met,” said Jackie.

In their role, the Lesniewskis plan to encourage the faithful to share their blessings and to view their donation as an act of gratitude toward the Catholic Church.

“The Catholic Church has always reached out and served those in need. It is a way of strengthening our faith and building strong communities,” said Jackie.


Deacon John and Rita Mroz

Deacon John and Rita Mroz

Parishioners of St. Joseph, Jim Thorpe, Deacon John and Ritz Mroz eagerly accepted the opportunity to help guide the appeal because of all the “worthwhile ministries” it brings to the five-county diocese.

“Our hope for this year’s BAA is that more hearts will be opened to God’s call in their lives, and that more people will be moved to give out of gratitude and generosity,” said Deacon Mroz.

By virtue of their baptism, the couple consider themselves working members of Christ’s body and are called to generosity by the giving of their time, talent and treasure.

“Jesus calls us to take care of the poor and needy among us when he says, ‘whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ We are commissioned to be more concerned about our brothers and sisters than we are to be concerned for ourselves,” said Deacon Mroz.


Chris and Mary Birkhead

Chris and Mary Birkhead

Parishioners of St. Thomas More, Allentown, the Birkheads felt by accepting the role of chairpersons they would experience another opportunity to serve the diocesan faithful and respond to the Lord’s call to share their gifts.

“It’s especially important that we keep focused on the good people who depend on a successful appeal. Our hope would be that we can increase donations so that our children can learn in Christ-centered places, our priests can be educated to serve our people, and our families can care for those most in need,” said Mary.

The couple often reflects on the beatitudes as a guiding light to live out their faith and said their baptismal call plays a huge role in participating in the appeal.

“The appeal is a perfect opportunity for the people of the Diocese of Allentown to fulfill God’s call to comfort, encourage, feed and stand up for those who need us most in our communities,” said Mary.

Their hope is that people will “find the time” to contribute to BAA.

“All Americans, all Catholics, all members of our diocese are incredibly busy people,” said Mary.

“We are busy working, studying, raising families, praying, playing and living our lives as best we can. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the time to serve, feed, clothe, help and encourage the needy in our communities.

“The Bishop’s Annual Appeal gives us the opportunity to do just that, to live out the beatitudes by donating and praying for those who need just what you and only you can give.”

Gabe and Gina Scala

Gabe and Gina Scala

Humbled by the opportunity to guide BAA, Gina and Gabe Scala, parishioners of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Bethlehem, hope the faithful will find inspiration to donate their time, talent or treasure to such a tremendous cause.

“Our hope is that many more people in the diocese answer God’s call to help out in any way possible. People used as a resource can make great strides in meeting the needs of others. Time is all some people need. Reaching out to others can impact those in so many ways,” said Gabe.

The couple lives out their call to help their brothers and sisters in need and said they hope the appeal will motivate the faithful to assist others – especially the elderly.

“This is an opportunity to put our beliefs into action. Many seniors have given so much to the Catholic Church and our country, and frequently ask for nothing in return. It is our commitment to the elderly that really makes the appeal meaningful,” said Gabe.

“BAA will again be successful by answering the call of the Scriptures and people’s hearts. If everyone makes one act of helping others in any way possible, this could change the lives of many.”

Bob and Toni Plesnarski

​​​​​​​Bob and Toni Plesnarski

Parishioners of St. Matthew the Evangelist, Minersville were selected to lead BAA in Schuylkill County, and the Plesnarskis are eager to give back to the BAA that helped their family.

With six children and 15 grandchildren, the Plesnarskis have benefitted from the services provided by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Allentown, for their daughter, who struggles with drug dependency.

“We have been volunteers in our parish, and see first-hand the toll that running a Catholic Church can take on those called to this duty,” said Toni.

The couple have also seen the power of charity and prayer on behalf of their granddaughter, who was born with spina bifida.

“We know that in a perfect world no one would need to be fed, clothed or given drink to satisfy their thirst. There would be no sickness, no maladies, no drug abuse and no need for intervention. But alas, the world surely is not perfect. We will err many times in our lifetime,” said Toni.

“In our lives, we try to embrace imperfection and do as Christ taught – ‘to love our neighbor.’ The Gospel also teaches us that charity is love.”

Bishops Annual Appeal kickoffs

  • Berks County – Tuesday, April 25, 6 to 8 p.m. at St. Ignatius Loyola, 2700 St. Albans Drive, Sinking Spring.
  • Carbon County – Wednesday, April 26, 6 to 8 p.m., St. Joseph, 468 W. Ludlow St., Summit Hill.
  • Lehigh County – Thursday, May 4, 6 to 8 p.m., St. Thomas More, 1040 Flexer Ave., Allentown.
  • Northampton County – Tuesday, May 2, 6 to 8 p.m., Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 3219 Santee Road, Bethlehem.
  • Schuylkill County – Thursday, April 27, 6 to 8 p.m., St. Matthew the Evangelist, 135 Spruce St., Minersville.