Bishop’s Annual Appeal Kicks Off in Lehigh County

Deacon Michael Laroche speaks during the Bishop’s Annual Appeal (BAA) kickoff in Lehigh County April 3 at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Whitehall. (Photos by John Simitz)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

“There’s no better way to start our efforts with the Bishop’s Annual Appeal (BAA) than with the greatest prayer of all – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” said Bishop Alfred Schlert, main celebrant and homilist of an evening Mass April 3 at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Whitehall that kicked off the 2019 BAA in Lehigh County.

The Diocese of Allentown and BAA Trust Advisory Board hosted the evening that launched this year’s appeal, “Because We Are Catholic,” which has a goal of $4.6 million to help those in need.

The liturgy was followed by a reception in the parish hall, which included presentations by two BAA Trust Advisors: Deacon Michael Laroche, who serves Holy Trinity, Whitehall; and Ron Derstine, parishioner of St. Joseph, Limeport for over 25 years.

The appeal always begins after Easter.

Principal concelebrants of the liturgy were Father John Pendzick, pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary; and Monsignor Daniel Yenushosky, pastor of Holy Trinity.

Also concelebrating were other priests of the Lehigh Deanery: Monsignor Edward Coyle, pastor of St. Ann, Emmaus; Father John Gibbons, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Conception BVM, Allentown; Monsignor Gerald Gobitas, pastor of St. John the Baptist, Whitehall; Monsignor Thomas Hoban, in residence at St. John the Baptist; Monsignor David James, Diocesan vicar general; Monsignor John Martin, pastor of St. Peter, Coplay; and Monsignor Francis Schoenauer, pastor of the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown.

In his homily, Bishop Schlert said Catholics, and all Christians, grew up thinking of God as the Father, but “the Jewish people didn’t think of him in such endearing terms.” He referred to the evening’s Gospel, John 5:17-30, when the Jews wanted to kill Jesus even more because he called God his own father – Jesus said he can do nothing without his Father.

“As we make up our Catholic communities of families, we work in concert with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” Bishop Schlert said. “We believe our faith and Church is guided by the Holy Trinity.

“Just like Jesus, we can do nothing without the Father. And without the cooperation of each other, it’s hard to get things done.

“As we come together as a Roman Catholic family of faith, we’re reminded that’s what binds us, and enlivens our faith and works.”

The Bishop thanked everyone for their efforts with BAA, and asked them, in this season of Lent, if there is anything keeping them from living in concert with the Holy Trinity.

“Together we can do so much.”

As the evening segued into the reception, Father Pendzick led those gathered in a prayer and Paul Acampora, secretary of the Diocesan Secretariat for Stewardship and Development, offered words of welcome.
Acampora said news stories say that people are not giving to the Church, but said that’s not true.

The event included a screening of the BAA video.

In 2018, BAA supported community services with $2,153,000, education $846,000, vocations $508,000, parish life $423,000, parish sharing $370,000 and administration $300,000.

Rod Derstine

As Derstine addressed the group as it noshed on tasty offerings, he said the BAA Board of Trust Advisors was formed in 2012, and all gifts are received and administered by the trust advisors.
Derstine focused on the protection and segregation of trust assets, explaining they are only for the appeal fund.

The 12-member board of volunteer community leaders and parishioners from across the Diocese of Allentown was appointed by the Bishop. There is always at least one representative of every county in the Diocese.
Derstine said he and Deacon Laroche are representatives of Lehigh County. “We are the spokespeople of the appeal to the community.”

Deacon Laroche

“We give to the appeal because we are Catholic. That’s what we do as followers of Christ,” Deacon Laroche said. “Because Catholics feed the hungry, we’ve served 42,000 people in soup kitchens and pantries.”

BAA, he said, provides such things as housing services, helps seniors, provides counseling, and aids faith development through the Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization, including ministry to youth and young adults. It also helps the Diocese’s three special learning centers, including Mercy School for Special Learning, Allentown.

Deacon Laroche said BAA also helps seminarians, noting there are nine men in Lehigh County preparing to be priests.

“If a parish exceeds its goal, 50 percent of that money is returned to the parish,” Deacon Laroche said. In BAA, “only 6 percent of the money is used for administrative expenses – well below the national average.”

“Thank you for coming tonight as we begin what we hope is another wonderful year,” Deacon Laroche said.
“As the song says, ‘they will know we are Christians by our love.’”

Bishop Schlert

As Bishop Schlert addressed the gathering, he noted, “Sometimes we lose sight of all that is done every day.”
Humbly, Bishop Schlert made clear he doesn’t like the focus on “bishop” in the appeal. “It’s the Catholic Community Appeal. It’s all the people who do the work in the Diocese, and the people who are served,” he said.

Bishop Schlert noted even the BAA logo is smaller on this year’s BAA materials, with the focus on “Because We Are Catholic.”

‘“Because We’re Catholic’ is the real key to the appeal.”

Bishop Schlert referenced the Diocesan mission statement, “A Roman Catholic family of faith, centered in the Holy Eucharist, faithful to the Church’s teaching, bringing the light of Christ to each other and to our community.”

“We approach services and life as Catholics with different views sometimes, and we’re proud of that,” Bishop Schlert said. “Because we’re Catholic we do great things with God’s blessing and guidance. Anyone with a need can come to us and be served. Because we’re Catholic we do God’s work day in and day out.

“I thank you and God bless you.”

The Spear Family

The evening was a real family affair for Mike and Emily Spear, parishioners of the Cathedral, who attended with their eight children, from 13 years to 12 weeks old: Theodore, Bernadette, Adelaide, Teresa, Veronica, Phoebe, Leo and Rosemary.

Emily Spear noted St. Adelaide is the patron of large families.

“It was wonderful to receive an invitation to this Mass, it’s always special to spend time with Jesus in the Eucharist,” Emily Spear said. “This one was even more special with the Bishop.”

“We’re excited to give back to the community at large,” Emily Spear said of BAA, as her husband added,

“Catholic Charities is not just for the Catholic Church.” The Spears are involved in volunteering at a soup kitchen and nursing home, noting all these things are important.

“Giving back to the community is not important in some abstract sense, but because Jesus is present in every human individual, so we are excited to give back to the community, to Jesus in everyone around us, and as Mike said, that means that Catholic Charities is not just about Catholics,” Emily Spear said.

“One of our children said it was an extra special Communion today because there were nine priests,” Mike Spear said.

“Tonight is joyful,” Emily Spear added. “It is great to be with so many people who want to work together to do good.

“We are involved with the BAA out of love and gratitude. We see donating to the BAA as an opportunity to show our gratitude to God for everything he has given us.”