Growing ranks of Alaskan seminarians poses financial challenge

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When it comes to men training for the Catholic priesthood, the Anchorage Archdiocese has what many would consider a good problem.

After years of few seminarians training for priesthood, there are now five men in formation with two more on the way. Over the past three years two other men have been ordained as priests. The challenge now is figuring out how to fund the extensive education of this growing group of future clergy.

The archdiocese has a plan but it entails wide support from local Catholics. Recently, the archdiocese received a “challenge grant” from Catholic Extension Society, an organization that supports smaller rural dioceses across the nation where faith may be thriving but resources scarce.

The contribution from Catholic Extension is set up as a matching grant. For every $1,000 raised, the grant kicks in an extra $500. The archdiocese has set an initial goal of raising $100,000 with the grant kicking in an additional $50,000.

The key, however, is that the grant will only match gifts of $1,000 or more. So each $1,000 gift is actually worth $1,500.

Ultimately, the archdiocese hopes the campaign raises a grand total of $250,000 in order to launch the new Seminarian Endowment.

Laurie Evans-Dinneen, director of the archdiocese’s Stewardship & Development Office explains it like this.

“To meet the match we need $100,000 in $1,000 or more donations. To get to the $250,000 legacy gift level for Archbishop Schwietz to leave to his successor, we will take any and all donations.”

According to Evans-Dinneen, the archdiocese currently pays all expenses for seminarian education with the total cost of about $325,000 for one man to be trained for the priesthood.

“As you can imagine, the $250,000 will not go far toward anything,” Evans-Dinneen said. “That is why it is the starting point, and it is intended as archbishop’s legacy gift to the new archbishop.”

The overall goal is to raise $5 million in five years, which would allow the endowment to spinoff earnings to fund eight seminarians a year.

The endowment will reside with the Catholic Foundation of Alaska, and its distribution policy is “no more than five percent of the average fund balance for the last 12 quarters” for the annual distribution.

The fundraising campaign includes seeking private contributions, parish donor dinners and a major event later this summer.

On June 9 the archdiocese will host the “Seminarian Endowment Challenge Fundraising Event” at St. Patrick Church in Anchorage. The event will run 6-8:30 p.m. and will include several seminarians on hand to meet attendees, including Robert Whitney who is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in the summer of 2017.

At the June 9th event, seminarians will present a short video on their experience training to become priests. Tickets for the evening are $50 and include heavy appetizers, a buffet and wine as well as a scotch and wine auction and a “dessert dash.” The night will also entail an auction phase where attendees can donate toward tuition for a seminarian, including room and board, or travel fees, books and other expenses.

For information on how to donate to the Seminary Endowment or to purchase tickets for the upcoming “Seminarian Endowment Challenge,” go online to archdioceseofanchorage.org or call (907) 297-7789.


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