July 25, 2019
By David Heinzmann
As Cardinal Francis George faced a growing financial crisis in 2013, he asked Chicago Catholics for hundreds of millions of dollars for parishes and education, with $150 million set aside for a scholarship trust to save struggling schools.
In its pitch to the faithful, the Archdiocese of Chicago said schools and parishes were “challenged on many fronts — shifting demographics, a struggling economy, rising costs, a secularized society and aging facilities, to name a few.”
Catholics heeded the call ― the “To Teach Who Christ Is” campaign became the largest in the church’s history. Church leadership set a goal of $350 million, and when the pledges were added up, surpassed it by $77 million.
“The main purpose of the capital campaign was to raise money for scholarships to help parishes and schools to make them stable over the long term,” said Betsy Bohlen, the archdiocese’s chief operating officer.
Six years later, however, stability has proven elusive for one of the nation’s largest archdioceses, where dozens of schools have been shuttered and parishes merged since the fundraising drive began.
The financial pressures are myriad: the tab for priest misconduct settlements remains mammoth and the cost of retired priest pensions is rising, even as school enrollments shrink and Sunday collection plates remain flat.
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