PORTLAND — It is impossible to quantify the effect the Catholic Appeal has had on the lives of thousands and thousands of Maine people, Catholic and non-Catholic, through the years. The closest you can get is to listen to the ways in which the generosity of donors, and a call to help others, continues to change the lives of people the givers will never meet. 

At its most basic level, Appeal funds help families put food on the table, enable children to receive an education, provide comfort and support for those in recovery and those in hospital beds, offer companionship to seniors, and extend a hand to individuals suffering from mental illness or homelessness.

“The annual Catholic Appeal serves as a reminder to trust more deeply in God’s love for each of us, to receive that love, and to share it with others,” said Bishop Robert Deeley. “The capacity for the Appeal to provide a path forward for people in times of joy and difficulty may well be limitless.”

The theme of the 2021 Catholic Appeal is “Together in Christ,” referring to how we are all called to journey together to discover, follow, and share Christ with each person we encounter along the way. Work made easier by the support of those who offer gifts to the Appeal, and work that has proven even more crucial to so many during the pandemic. The Appeal-funded programs and offices range in size, in scope, and in recipient of the generosity, but each brings those they assist to a better place than before they connected with the ministries.

Catholic Charities Maine is the social service arm of the Catholic Church in Maine, and Appeal funds help the organization deliver community-based social services throughout the state to over 50,000 people each year, including thousands of residents in Aroostook, Washington, and Penobscot counties who are served by 28 food pantries. The Farm for ME program offers fresh vegetables to increase access to healthier food options.

“We serve thousands of individuals each month, and our Food Bank provides nearly two million pounds of food annually,” said Dixie Shaw, director of Hunger & Relief Services for Catholic Charities Maine.

The Appeal is the primary source of funding for Parish Social Ministry, a Catholic Charities Maine program that provides parishes with assistance and guidance in developing programs that respond to specific needs and serve the wider community. PSM initiatives range from weatherization workshops to senior programs and ministries for those with special needs. PSM also offers its own initiatives that provide relief and hope to people facing emergency situations.

“I always envisioned Catholic Charities as a place where you can turn if you feel you have no hope and you’re down and out,” said Steve Letourneau, CEO of Catholic Charities Maine. “It is fulfilling our baptismal call that we all have to serve one another, especially those most in need. Relief & Hope Services is a program that provides small amounts of financial assistance, but perhaps more importantly, it tries to provide people with a path forward.”

A path forward while remaining in their homes is the impact volunteers of the SEARCH program (Seek Elderly Alone, Renew Courage & Hope) have on seniors as they help with perform household tasks, provide transportation, and meet other crucial needs.

“I think one thing that encouraged me was my first client,” said Joe, who has volunteered for several seniors. “Even when he got to the point where he was in a hospital bed all the time and could barely speak, right from the first day I met him, he never let me walk out the door without saying thank you.”

The Appeal also supports Catholic Charities in its efforts to assist families with program like Functional Family Therapy that provides support to families with teens and pre-teens suffering from social, emotional, and behavioral issues. In addition, the Appeal supports two child development centers offering affordable care in Portland and Biddeford.

“It’s life-changing. It really is. I just can’t stress enough that they really did save me,” said Kaylee, whose daughters attend St. Louis Child Development Center in Biddeford. “They started coming here, and it was wonderful.”

“I like to say that joy is the default emotion of preschool children, and so, we want to make sure that we continue to support and make that possible,” said Bill Hager, the center’s director. “So, even though the families are feeling stress, and the staff is feeling stress, the challenge for us is to put that stress aside to give the children as natural and as joyful an experience as possible when they’re here, and to give credit to the staff who work here, I think they’ve done a really fine job of being able to do that.”

Also based in the Biddeford area, but serving over 125 women across Maine, is CourageLIVES, Maine’s first residential treatment program for survivors of sex trafficking as well as a safe house for women 18 years and older. The program provides food, clothing, shelter, and counseling for residents, and includes an outreach program for women who live elsewhere.

“Our CourageLIVES program has become well known to women who seek us for help. Our outreach program has grown tremendously. We now serve women and families in many counties such as Penobscot, Cumberland, Aroostook, York, and Franklin. Our staff helps others who are either not able to come to our program or need ongoing support to continue their recovery,” said Sister Terry Gauvin, provincial superior of the American Province of the Good Shepherd Sisters who oversee the program, which is a division of Saint André Home that is supported by the Appeal.

“The diocese is so grateful for programs like CourageLIVES and its mission of serving women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and need a safe secure place to heal and rebuild,” said Bishop Deeley. “The program also raises awareness and helps victims and survivors of human trafficking find freedom, waiting arms to offer safety, an understanding of their intrinsic value, and a path to healing.”

The life-changing spirit of the Appeal can also be felt in the hallways of the Catholic elementary, middle, and high schools in Maine, all of which remained open and offering in-person and virtual education during the heights of the pandemic.

“The efforts and dedication of our school communities have been lauded by not only the Church, but by the wider community,” said Marianne Pelletier, superintendent of Maine Catholic Schools. “Once again, our Catholic schools are shining examples of how faith, mutual respect, and preparation will always win the day. The children and their education are the beneficiaries of this diligence, and I can’t thank you enough.” 

“The very fact that they have made a heroic effort to provide in-person classroom education five days a week is a tribute to their wish to see our schools at the heart of the community of the Church,” said Bishop Deeley. “This has been a tremendous service to the parents and the families of our young people, and we are so proud of our school communities.”

Thanks to the Appeal, campus ministry is flourishing at colleges and universities across Maine, including Bowdoin, Colby, UMaine, UNE, and USM, providing welcoming environments for college students to continue to grow in their faith.

“The most important thing with campus ministry, as with all ministries, is to introduce people to Jesus and help them to get an intimate relationship, and that way, they can begin to grow into who they are supposed to be, be perfect as they are called to be,” said Fr. Bill Labbe, pastor of St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish in Sanford and St. Matthew Parish in Limerick.It’s estimated that up to 80% of practicing Catholic college and university students leave their campuses no longer practicing any faith at all. The positive impact of Campus Ministry helps reverse that by revitalizing our students’ experiences of faith and the Church.”

At a time when patients were not able to have family members and friends at their bedsides, hospital chaplains were present to provide comfort and care, assuring those hospitalized that they were not alone because Christ is always with them. The Appeal allows priest and lay chaplains to be present at Maine’s largest secular hospitals, including Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Maine Medical Center in Portland, MaineGeneral Health in Augusta, and Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

“How are they feeling about the care they are getting? Are they frightened? Do they have family? Do they have friends whom they can count on for support? Giving them a chance to vent if things aren’t going well or to celebrate if they have gone really well, just accompanying them during the best and worst times of their lives,” said Mary Hazzard, a Catholic lay chaplain at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

“Maybe their children are no longer practicing. Nobody is able to take them to church, and they want to have the sacrament. When you come across those people, the joy you get from them, they enlighten you and make you feel happy,” said Fr. Anthanasius Wirsiy.

The Office of Hispanic Ministry provides pastoral care and faith formation to Maine’s growing Latino community, helping members become fully engaged in the life of the Church, services that continued through the pandemic. Weekly Masses in Spanish are also held in person and livestreamed at parishes and communities across the state.

“Classes in preparation for the sacraments of baptism, first Eucharist, and confirmation, marriage preparation classes, and so much more,” said Fr. Michael Sevigny, OFM Cap., the director of Hispanic Ministry. “Celebrating Mass in Spanish also strengthens us during these trying times and gives all of us the grace to continue to deepen our relationship with Jesus.”

The Office of Lifelong Faith Formation provides exciting opportunities and resources to priests, catechetical leaders, pastoral life coordinators, youth ministers, and other parish staff and volunteers involved in the faith formation of children, teenagers, and adults.

“Faith formation is something that happens in every single parish. In part because we celebrate sacraments. Sacraments are something that touches every person’s life. So, part of what the office does is help local parishes do that well,” said Lori Dahlhoff, the director of the office.

That includes, Echoes of Faith, a program offered by the office that invited Catholics from around the state to explore the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Catholic faith through online learning.

“For those people who spend more time developing their faith, there are other components that they can expand upon. They can go deeper, but this is really meant to be a basic, common conversation in a way that invites your whole person into it,” said Dahlhoff.

“I really have a thirst for God and the Holy Spirit. I’m driven by it. I want to learn how to be a better catechist or communicator on how to bring the word of God to others,” said Joanne Fortier, a participant from the Parishes of the Western Maine Lakes and Foothills. “It just brings you to a good place. I really enjoy it.”

“I wanted to be able to express myself more clearly when talking with other people,” said Lynette Dobbs, a participant from St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Houlton. “It’s a great opportunity for anyone to just deepen their faith and to come to a clearer understanding of it. I love it.”

The support and encouragement extend directly to parish faith formation efforts as well, including Holy Spirit Parish in Kennebunk and Wells where Colby White and his fellow faith formation classmates hold Matthew 25 Meals for community members in need each month and are involved in a variety of initiatives and service projects that stem from faith formation experiences.

“It’s all about what I think Jesus would do. He wouldn’t just be going to church and going home. He would be going to church, and then, He would be out all day and probably going to bed at midnight. It’s about doing all that you can do to help do God’s work,” said White, who is a recent graduate of Cheverus High School in Portland.

The list goes on and on. The Appeal supports priests who are on medical leave, ensuring their salaries, health insurance, and pensions continue while they are not serving so the cost isn’t carried by a parish; members of the deaf community through interpreted Masses; Harvest, the magazine of the Diocese of Portland that shares inspiring stories of faith; and prison ministry, which provides care and counsel to Maine prison inmates and their families, helping them discover God’s merciful presence.

“In sum, the Appeal brings the hope of the Gospel to life,” said Bishop Deeley. “The work made possible by the Catholic Appeal, particularly at this time, has been nothing short of extraordinary and provided life-altering support to people in their hour of need. The number of people in our Church who met this moment of uncertainty and struggle with generosity and courage offered hope to many people in so many ways. All of this support was only possible because of you and your contributions.”

To donate, learn more about these and additional programs benefitting from the Appeal in Maine, or to watch the 2021 Appeal video, visit the special Appeal section website at www.portlanddiocese.org/Appeal.