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Maine’s Catholic Appeal Donors Helping to Better the Lives of Thousands of Neighbors in Need

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 continue 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 theme of the 2022 Catholic Appeal in Maine is “Living Faith.” As Catholics, we are called to not only live our faith for ourselves but in community with one another. A living faith is an active faith and one that follows the example Jesus set for us. It brings us together to celebrate the Eucharist, to share our gifts, and to lift others up so that they may discover the gifts they, too, have to offer. 

“One way that Catholics in Maine can help their faith come alive is by contributing to the Appeal. We take time to pause and reflect on the many blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us and are mindful of the many needs which call for a gracious and generous response,” said Bishop Robert Deeley. “Your gift helps in so many ways and offers the opportunity to join hands with thousands of other Catholics in Maine whose generosity brings the saving, healing, and joyful message of Jesus to children, women, and men in our state.”

Appeal-funded programs and offices range in size, in scope, and in recipient, but each brings those they assist to a better place.

Catholic Charities Maine (CCM) 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.

“What that means is we provide as much food each month as we possibly can,” said Dixie Shaw, director of Hunger & Relief Services for CCM.  “There have been so many people who have written letters and said what it meant to have this extra help. It costs a lot of money to give away free food, and I couldn’t be prouder to work for an organization than I am working for Catholic Charities Maine.”

The Appeal is the primary source of funding for Parish Social Ministry (PSM), 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.

“When you give to the Appeal, you’re helping to create and sustain a network where people can come together and, as Catholics, share their passion and show their love to the community,” said Bill Wood, one of four outreach specialists with PSM. “We can do more together, and we should do more together.”

“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. “Relief & Hope Services, for instance, 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 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 treatment programs and counseling services to help those struggling with mental illness, opioid addiction, or related issues, and provides for Education Services for Blind and Visually Impaired Children that serves over 300 children and teens from Kittery to Fort Kent. 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 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. Students enrolled at the schools increased by nearly 10% this year, and the Appeal also supports the schools by covering the cost of lay teacher pensions, providing grants, and funding the Office of Maine Catholic Schools.

“You can really see the spiritual growth they get in Catholic school and how it plays out in life,” said Connor Smith, a parent at St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick. “If we’re not looking to grow our faith in these schools, how else are we going to grow it with the younger generation? There’s no better way to support the faith than through these children.”

“Catholic education is a gift,” said Chrissy Smith, Connor’s wife. “The Appeal directly supports the schools and families like us.”

“Most of the people there believe in the same thing you do,” said their daughter, Gwenyth. “So, you feel like you can share something with them if you have to. It’s great to be here.”

Thanks to the Appeal, campus ministry is flourishing at colleges and universities across Maine, including Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, the University of Maine in Orono and Farmington, and UNE, providing welcoming environments for college students to continue to grow in their faith and keeping that faith alive and vibrant on campuses.

“The Newman Center has helped me listen to God and to discover what he wants me to do with my life. I think that’s true for everyone here,” said Joseph Beale, a student at the University of Maine in Orono.

“Every time I bring someone to this community, they’re just blown away by just how joyful and welcoming everyone is. They’re curious about how they can get this joy,” said Nick Hershbine, another student at the University of Maine.

“By having our students come here, as they encounter Jesus and are changed by their relationship with him, they become the type of people who evangelize with their whole lives,” said Fr. Kyle Doustou, director of campus ministry for the Diocese of Portland. “It’s an investment in the future of the diocese.” 

The Appeal allows priests and lay chaplains to be present at Maine’s hospitals, offering comfort and encouragement, praying with them, and bringing them the Eucharist.

“Bringing some calm and some comfort and God’s love and mercy to those people who are in a very vulnerable place is something that I enjoy,” said Fr. Kevin Upham, a hospital chaplain at Maine Medical Center in Portland. “It does lift people up so that they feel better, whereas if they are alone, it can wear on a person. The physical, the mental, and the spiritual are all connected.”

“You feel somebody changing and somebody opening up, somebody who had been looking like they never wanted to talk, but now, they’ve spent 20 minutes talking. Then, I feel like they have received something from me,” said Fr. Amandus Sway, another hospital chaplain. “It’s so important because some of the patients really need prayers, especially those who are so worried. It feels good to be with patients.”

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.

“The Hispanic community in Maine is very spread out, so the reach out is important in trying to bring the community together and serve them. Without the Catholic Appeal, this ministry would not exist,” said Fr. Michael Sevigny, OFM Cap., the director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry in the Diocese of Portland. “It’s a gift of faith and community to be able to celebrate God together.”

“Going to families and being with them and spending time with them, that is when they open themselves up to the Church and to faith,” said José Pérez, who serves in Hispanic Ministry. “You can see the joy when we visit.”

“Being a part of Hispanic Ministry has helped my faith grow tremendously,” said Jonathan Majano, who participates in Hispanic Ministry. “They incorporate a lot of traditions that countries have. Any support would be appreciated because the Hispanic community in Maine is growing each year.”

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.

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; prison ministry, which provides care and counsel to Maine prison inmates and their families, helping them discover God’s merciful presence; and the tribunal, which helps individuals resume full participation in the sacramental life of the Church and to deepen their union with God by removing, when possible, impediments that may exist.

“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 2022 Appeal video, visit the special Appeal section website at www.portlanddiocese.org/Appeal.