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The Catholic Diocese of Lincoln surpassed its nearly two-year “Joy of the Gospel” fundraising campaign by nearly $10 million, raising close to $62.5 million in the yearlong effort.

Campaign organizers report that to date, the campaign has raised $62,499,153 in cash and pledges, and that pledges continue to come in.

The campaign’s initial goal was $53 million to help fund Catholic schools, seminary education, priests’ retirements, local parish projects and programs supporting evangelization and outreach.

The campaign far exceeded expectations, said Monsignor Liam Barr, campaign director and pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in Lincoln. He praised the church’s “extraordinary stewardship, rooted in a long history of generosity.”

Peter Hoskow, managing director of fundraising consultant Community Counseling Service, called the campaign “among the most successful diocesan efforts within the Catholic Church in America.”

In December 2014, Bishop James D. Conley publicly released the diocese’s budget -- a first for the Lincoln Diocese. At that time, he noted that since 2008 the diocese had used more than half of its $21.9 million in reserve funds to cover yearly expenses. At that time he announced the "Joy of the Gospel" campaign. 

By publishing the report, Conley said he hoped to tell the truth about the diocese’s financial position and demonstrate its need for creative fundraising and financial planning in the years to come.

Clearly, it worked.

More than 11,000 Catholic households -- roughly 45 percent of Catholic households in the Diocese of Lincoln -- pledged a five-year gift to the "Joy of the Gospel" campaign.

Participation rates in diocesan campaigns are typically 20 to 25 percent, according to CCS. The average pledge amount was $6,862, which CCS called “the highest average gift we have experienced within a diocesan campaign in nearly seven decades of service to the Catholic Church,” Hoskow said.

Hoskow also noted that 86 percent of parishes in the diocese achieved their fundraising goals, and that “Bishop (James D.) Conley, new in the Diocese of Lincoln, cultivated relationships to raise over $16.8 million personally.”

In addition, 145 Catholic priests of the Diocese of Lincoln pledged nearly $1 million of their own funds to support the campaign, making an average pledge of $6,595.

The bishop credited the success of the campaign to three factors:

“The first thing is the great need we have, and the great faith and generosity of Catholics in this diocese,” Conley said. “The second thing is the very hard work put in by our priests, staff, and volunteers. And the third factor is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patroness of our diocese, who prays for the success of our ministry.”

Conley said the most gratifying success was the number of families contributing to the campaign.

“This speaks to the faith and missionary spirit of the Catholics in our diocese -- no matter the amount pledged, I know that Catholics have made sacrifices to support the mission of the church,” Conley said.

The largest portion of funds will support the 32 Catholic elementary and high schools in the diocese. Some funds will be allocated to annually support schools in low-income areas, and to enhance marketing and development efforts. Other funds will provide grants to schools for new programs, personnel needs, and “innovative approaches to the mission of Catholic education,” said JD Flynn, spokesman for the Diocese of Lincoln.

Additional funds will be used to expand St. Gregory the Seminary in Seward, which is operating at maximum capacity, and to enhance tuition endowments for diocesan seminarians. Another portion of the campaign will cover an unfunded obligation to the pension and support of retired priests.

More than $10 million will return directly to Catholic parishes for local needs -- roofing projects, accessibility for the disabled, remodeled churches and parish halls, and new programs of faith formation and evangelization, Flynn said.

Six parishes in the diocese undertook “combined campaigns,” which joined diocesan needs with larger parish projects. Those campaigns raised an additional $11 million.

The final portion of funds will support projects of outreach and evangelization, which include a new pastoral plan and staff director for Hispanic ministry, expanded prison ministry, online resources and formation for all Catholics, and a significant pastoral outreach to divorced Catholics in the diocese. The funds will also provide seed capital for the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture, an accredited educational initiative for university students in the diocese.

“Pope Francis reminds us constantly to remember people on the margins,” Conley said. “We need the Joy of the Gospel to reach people the Church might not otherwise impact.”

Every dollar pledged to "Joy of the Gospel" is already attributed to the areas of support designated by the campaign plan, the bishop said.

The campaign does not support diocesan operations.

“We’re still working, across the Diocese of Lincoln, to achieve a sustainable financial model for the ordinary operations and needs of our diocese. We have to continue to be good stewards, and to be supportive of the church’s work,” Conley said. “But the campaign reminds us how many Catholics are willing to give generously to our mission."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSerinandersen.

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