Even amid an economic downturn that has many parishes struggling and a declining enrollment that prompted the closing of many Catholic schools, the Archdiocese of Baltimore is confident it can raise $100 million during its first capital campaign in 15 years.
Archbishop William E. Lori, who took over leadership of the nation's oldest archdiocese in May, launched the Embracing our Mission — Shaping our Future campaign Wednesday with an inner-city school newly renovated for $1.5 million and its students in the background.
"Around me today are the prime reason for our efforts," Lori said of the children attending Archbishop Borders School, the archdiocese's first with a dual-language program.
He spoke of a rich history of service and challenged Catholics to provide the resources to continue the mission and leave their own legacy for future generations.
"It would be difficult to continue our mission in this challenging economy without this campaign," Lori said.
Declining enrollment and the cost of maintaining aging buildings forced the closure of 12 elementary schools and Cardinal Gibbons High School in 2010 and St. Ambrose elementary school last year. Several parishes have merged because of decreased attendance and a lack of priests. Fewer Catholics are choosing the priesthood and religious life and many priests and nuns are working well beyond the traditional age of retirement.
Despite the economic challenges, Lori said he remains confident the goal will be reached, even surpassed. About a third of the area's 154 parishes began pledging to the campaign a year ago and the remaining ones will now join the effort. About $64 million has already been raised, including eight gifts of $1 million or more.
"I attribute that to the goodness and generosity of Catholics around the archdiocese," Lori said. "They have a love for their church and for what it is doing."
He won applause and laughter when he tied his announcement to the Orioles' securing a tie for first place in their division. The last such capital campaign was in 1997, the last year the Baltimore's baseball team was in first place this late in the season.
"This is a great day for our city and our state," Lori said, adding he would keep the momentum going on both efforts.
At least half the funds raised will be dedicated to the 70 Catholic schools, with an enrollment of nearly 28,000 students throughout the archdiocese. The average annual tuition is $5,225 and many families receive assistance. Funds raised will help broaden that assistance, officials said. Plans call for establishing a $25 million endowment and making $5 million available in immediate tuition assistance, organizers said.
"Our strategy is to fill our schools with as many students as we can and to help our families keep their children in them," Lori said. "We greatly value Catholic education, more than any other cause."
About $20 million from the campaign will be distributed to area parishes, which are responsible for raising their own operating costs. Catholic Charities, the largest private provider of services in Maryland, will receive $10 million. Its roughly 80 programs assist more than 160,000 people of all faiths annually, officials said.
Other funds will be used to assist retired clergy and help with maintenance of area churches and evangelization efforts.