WASHINGTON (April 12, 2002) -- When Father Jim Kelley's plane went down last month on his way to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass in a remote outpost of southwest Alaska, the staff at the Bishops' Committee on the Home Missions experienced a personal as well as professional loss. Not only did they know the priest, but one staff member had once flown with Father Kelley in the same Piper Cherokee that crashed into a mountain in blizzard conditions March 24.
Father Kelley, 73, was one of two priests who pilot themselves to parishes and missions in the 160,000 square mile Archdiocese of Anchorage. At the time of his death he had been pastor of Holy Rosary Church in Dillingham. The parish serves 600 people in 23 communities spread out over more than 33,000 square miles on Alaska's mainland and stretching out to the Aleutian Islands.
Helping Father Kelley's apostolate and others like it serve the spiritual needs of Catholics in the most remote areas of the country is typical of the Catholic Home Missions. This year the Bishops' Committee on the Home Missions will award $10.5 million in grants to more than 100 dioceses, organizations and religious orders. This is more than double the amount disbursed four years ago, one year after the U.S. Bishops established the first Catholic Home Missions Appeal in 1997.
"The great success of the Catholic Home Missions Appeal is a reflection of the strong links among the dioceses of the United States and its dependencies in a spirit of communio," said the Chairman of the Catholic Home Missions, Bishop Paul A. Zipfel of Bismarck, North Dakota. "It's a great example of the Church taking care of its own."
The grants for 2002-2003 were finalized at a recent meeting of the Committee on the Home Missions in Laredo, Texas. They will be disbursed beginning July 1, 2002.
The Committee on the Home Missions awarded grants totaling $4.5 million in 1998-1999, $6.0 million in 1999-2000, $7.7 million in 2000-2001, and nearly $9 million in 2001-2002. The new grants consist of $10.5 million to 85 dioceses and 21 organizations and religious orders.
The Catholic Home Missions Appeal supports the work of the Church wherever Catholics are few and the Church is fragile: in the Deep South, in the Rocky Mountain states, in the dusty Southwest, in the Rust Belt of eastern Ohio, in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and in Pacific territories like American Samoa and the Marshall Islands.
Approximately 85 out of 194 dioceses–plus the Eastern Catholic Church dioceses–are simply unable to provide the basic pastoral ministries of word, worship and service for their people without funding from the Catholic Home Missions Appeal. This means that at any given time approximately 40% of U.S. dioceses need serious financial assistance.
A recent report gives some indication of places where funds are most needed to help the work of the Church. In the diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, for example, nine counties have no church building, 26 are without a resident priest, and 33 have no presence or ministry by sisters, brothers, or lay volunteers.
The Diocese of Salt Lake City comprises the State of Utah and serves some 100,000 Catholics out of a total population of 2.3 million. While relations with the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) are cordial and cooperative, the Catholic community represents a small minority that must struggle to maintain its identity.
A Vietnamese sister in the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, ministers to eight different groups of Asian Pacific Islanders that reside in the diocese, including the Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Indonesian, Hmong, Guamenian, Samoan, and Tongan peoples.
The fastest-growing segment of the population in the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, consists of prison inmates. Full-time chaplains and local pastors serve the approximately 5,000 incarcerated men and women in five county facilities, two private facilities, and 11 state facilities.
There are only 29 priests for 35 parishes and 29 missions in the 66,900 square mile diocese of Baker, Oregon.
The Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, comprises 55,000 square miles in northwest New Mexico and northeast Arizona. Nearly 70% of the state consists of reservations for seven tribes of native American people. Half of the Catholic population are Navajo, Acoma, Laguna, Jicarilla Apache, White Mountain Apache, Zuni, and Hopi.
The Prefecture Apostolic of the Marshall Islands is 99 percent water; its 34 islands and atolls dot 500,000 square miles of the tropical Pacific. Six priests and two deacons travel to the diocese's nine isolated missions by small plane or boat.
The Diocese of Boise covers all of Idaho, from the relatively fertile Snake River Valley in the south to the mountainous north. Travel is quite difficult in winter since the major state highway is only two lanes as it winds and twists towards the Canadian border.
The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, serves military personnel and families at 220 installations in 29 countries; patients in 172 Veterans Administration hospitals; and is responsible for federal employees serving in 134 countries.
The Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of Stamford encompasses the states of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine, and serves 17,000 Eastern Catholics in 50 parishes that are approximately 50 miles apart.
The Committee on the Home Missions is the only grant-making agency with a particular focus on Hispanics. About 37% of its grants go to Hispanic ministries of various sorts; an additional 15% goes to Eastern rite churches, 6% are awarded to programs of ministry to African-American Catholics, 4% to Asian, and 6% to Native American ministries.
The Committee on the Home Missions is the successor to the American Board of Catholic Missions begun in 1924. Until 1999, the CHM received a percentage of the Mission
Sunday collection, taken up in most dioceses each October; now all monies from that source go to the missions overseas. The Catholic Home Missions Appeal was established by the bishops in June 1997 to guarantee continued funding for the home missions. The national date is the last Sunday in April, which is April 28 this year. The theme is "Strengthening the Church at Home."